Sunday, February 10, 2013

Guarding the couch; or, the laziest of dinners

During vacation, I had my typical "How can I make my regular life better?" daydream. My mind typically wandered there at night, while sitting on the beach digging my feet in the cool sand with a can of Corona in hand, a tiny blush of sunburn lingering on my cheeks. What is different about life here that I can take home with me? 

Sadly, I knew I couldn't resolve to do the obvious - drink more beer with lime wedges and eat guacamole every day. So, I decided to focus on a different change - less TV. I don't think I watch more TV than the average person, but it is very true that, when I'm stuck indoors during the winter, if there's nothing going on in the evening after work, too often I eat dinner and then plop down on the couch and see what's on. Before you know it, I've watched Family Feud and the Lakers game, and it's time to brush my teeth and go to bed. 

So, I came back from Mexico with a plan to keep the TV off. I told myself I would be done with the mindless TV watching, and only turn it on to watch my "programs" (pronounced "pro-grums") - the few shows I actually like. I would cut out the part where I just see what's on, and would be left with so much extra time to stay organized and do quality things, like reading or playing the train game (don't judge).

Let's just say, this hasn't happened. In fact, the evening we returned from our trip, we decided to extend our vacation for one more night by ordering pizza and opening a bottle of wine (and after they way I ate on vacation, why not?). Without thinking, we took our usual spots at our round dining table - not at two chairs facing each other romantically across the table, but two chairs huddled one one side, pointing toward the TV. As Adam slid the cardboard Pizza Luce box onto the table, I got up and swiveled the TV in our direction and joked, "Well, should we just see what's on?" 

Now it's been two weeks since we returned home, and in addition to catching up on Love It or List It, I'm working my way through re-watching all five seasons of Breaking Bad. Let's face it - a more realistic resolution for me would have been to have a pina colada at 5:00 every day. When the sky is dark by the time you climb on the bus at the end of the day, and your car is crusted shut with a week's worth of rain and snow - it can be nice to hunker down and guard the couch, as my dad likes to say. What is winter for, if not for catching up on all of the programs? 

Anyway, if you're like me and like to spend wintry nights guarding the couch, I have a recipe for you. Or if you just like food that comes together with less than 5 minutes of work (not exaggerating here), bubbles on the stove, then blows your mind, I have a recipe for you. 

This simple tomato sauce with onion and butter is it - it's an incredibly lazy and rich version of basic tomato sauce, and comes together with only the three ingredients listed in the name of the recipe. Let me summarize the steps to this dish here: open a can of tomatoes, slice off a chunk of butter, cut an onion in half and peel it. It all goes into a pot and simmers. That is it. Given the effort to rewards ratio, it might be the most satisfying recipe in my repertoire.

The wonder of this recipe comes from the flavor of the onion softly stewing in the tomatoes, and the butter boosting it into a rich, comforting pot of sauce. I make this almost weekly for dinner, typically doubling the recipe to have leftovers. I also don't hesitate to serve it to guests for a simple dinner party - it really has a bit of a wow factor, I think.

Because I make this so often, I try to get away with cutting the butter down to four tablespoons, and it's still great - but I urge you to try the five tablespoons the first time you make it. And, like TV watching, winter is really not the time to be concerned with those things anyway.

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
From Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan

1 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, preferably organic, roughly chopped (I just open the can and then poke a butter knife around inside to break up the tomatoes)
1 medium yellow onion, cut in half and peeled
5 tbsp. butter

In a medium saucepan, toss in the can of chopped tomatoes and their juices, the onion halves and the butter. Cook over medium heat until the sauce comes to a simmer; reduce heat to keep the sauce at a lazy simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomato chunks with a spoon as they soften.

After about 45 minutes, you should have a thickened, somewhat lumpy tomato sauce. Discard the onion and toss with pasta. (Actually, the onion is delicious, and if a few petals of onion end up on my plate, I don't mind one bit.)

Serves 4, unless you're like me and sneak extra spoonfuls of sauce out of the pot, in which case it makes more like 3 servings.

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