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March 2015

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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Slow Cooked Umbrian Pasta Sauce

I’m putting on the chef’s hat today. Well, actually I’m delaying putting on the chef’s hat at the moment. It seems that when I have a big gig to cook for, I am always tempted to start way too early and the meal is ready to be eaten two hours before the guests arrive. If it weren’t for the men’s breakfast this morning, I’d already have the onions cooking. I was so tempted to start chopping vegetables when I got them home from the store yesterday.

A couple of years ago, my family and our friends spent a month in Italy, three weeks of which was at the Stone House in Umbria just outside the little village of Pesciano (population 35). We booked Daniela and Michele of Happy Cooking came out to the Stone House on Sunday afternoon, bringing all the food necessary for a fantastic Umbrian meal. They taught us how to make pasta, let us help stir the sauce, chop vegetables, make outstanding appetizers, and generally enjoy a meal from the moment prep begins to the moment the last sip of Vin Santo is finished. I can’t even begin to suggest that I cook as good a pasta sauce as they taught us, but much of their care in cooking and slow food process influences what I do now.

I’m about to prepare my version of the Umbrian pasta sauce for a hundred people at church this evening, and I can hardly wait to start cooking, so I decided first to give you my recipe. Yes, here it is—the secret sauce.

Ingredients

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 large yellow onions, chopped coarsely

1 head of garlic, minced

4 pounds assorted mushrooms, chopped

12 red, green, yellow, and orange bell peppers, chopped

10 zucchini and yellow summer squash, chopped (see instructions)

3 pounds of broccoli, chopped

2 #10 cans of chopped or crushed tomatoes (I think that’s about equivalent to 2 dozen tomatoes)

1/4 cup dried Italian herb mix (or get fresh basil, thyme,

salt & pepper

6 pounds ground beef or Italian spicy sausage (if non-vegetarian)

3 tablespoons of crushed dried red peppers

12 pounds pasta (I prefer either a whole grain organic spaghetti, or a coarse semolina and egg noodle. Figure a serving size of 2 ounces uncooked pasta or 8 servings per pound. Adjust up or down depending on the age and appetite of the guests. We also provide gluten-free pasta for those who need or want it.)

Directions

  1. Prepare all the vegetables. Keep onion and garlic separate from other ingredients in one bowl and mushrooms separate in another. The peppers, zucchini, and broccoli can all be kept together.
  2. In a large Dutch oven or deep-sided skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium low heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft and aromatic.
  3. Add mushrooms and sauté with the onions over low heat until the juices flow from the mushrooms and they are soft and moist.
  4. Transfer onions and mushrooms to large (20 quart) slow cooker or electric roaster and set the temperature for 190 degrees. Add crushed tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, broccoli, and herbs. Cover and cook for at least one hour. If the sauce is too thick, add tomato sauce to the mix.
  5. While the sauce cooks slowly, brown the meat in 1/4 cup olive oil in the Dutch oven. If using ground beef, add crushed dried red peppers to spice up the meat. If you are using a spicy Italian sausage, you may not need the peppers. Go by taste.
  6. At least one hour before serving, separate up to 8 quarts of sauce (about 2/5) into a large soup kettle for vegetarian service. Add the meat to the remaining sauce and cook covered for an hour. Taste test the vegetarian sauce for degree of spiciness and add crushed red pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Do the same for the meat sauce. Let cook at least an hour, but do not bring to a boil. 180 degrees is a great serving temperature.
  7. At least 45 minutes before serving, bring 10 quarts of water to a boil in each of several pasta cookers or large kettles. It takes a while for large amounts of water to come to a boil. Exactly how much water per pound of pasta is a question of some dispute, but we like the recipe that says “abundant water with ample salt.” Conventional wisdom says about a tablespoon or 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt per pound of pasta, but I usually ease up on that a bit when cooking multiple batches of pasta. Most chefs recommend bringing the water to a boil, then salting it, then returning to a boil before adding the pasta. Don’t try to cook more than 2 pounds of pasta in a kettle at a time. When the pasta has cooked to doneness, drain and toss with olive oil to keep it limber and from clumping together as people serve themselves.
  8. Move pasta, both sauces, and abundant grated Italian cheese (I personally prefer Pecorino Romano as I don’t do well with dairy products and it is made from sheep’s milk. Most people use Parmesan.) to the serving table and let people serve themselves!

Oh. If you aren’t serving 100 people, you might want to cut this recipe back a little!

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