Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mother Lovin' Sauce

In classic French cooking, there are so-called "Mother Sauces", dating from the 1800s.  They have fancy names like "bechamel" and "veloute", and were one of the first things they taught us to make in our pro chef class.   Once you know how to make a mother sauce, you can get creative.  If you add tarragon to hollandaise, you get bearnaise.  If you add gruyere cheese to bechamel, you get mornay. There's even one where you add veal bone marrow to espagnole, and get something equally incomprehensible.

That's all fine.  But when the family's hungry on a Tuesday night, I don't turn to the Mother Sauces.  I turn to the Mother Lovin' Sauce:

I (the mother) open a jar (of sauce), add stuff (see below), and get dinner in 20 minutes.  (Lovin' that).

Mother Lovin' Sauce - A Rough Guide
There's not really a recipe here, more of a general concept.  Endless variations of the MLS are possible, and then there are, in turn, a slew of possible applications of the MLS*.

MLS basics:  Ground meat (should include sausage if at all possible), an onion, fresh or dried herbs, veggies you want your kids to eat without knowing it, a jar of starter sauce, and a "kicker" sauce to add another layer of flavor.  As you can see, it is extremely helpful to live near a Trader Joe's if you will be doing this often.  Not shown: garlic, red wine, olive oil.

Chop your onions, mince the garlic, and then chop or shred the veggies.  Rule of thumb:  the more reviled the secret veggie is, the finer you will need to chop it so they won't catch on.  Carrots blend.  Zucchini does not.

Start by browning the meat in a large pan.  Did I mention you should definitely include Italian sausage if possible?  It'll really help the flavor of your sauce.  When it's brown, drain most of the fat, and put the meat in a bowl on the side.

Add a splash of olive oil to the pan.  Give it a minute to warm up, then add the chopped onions.  I like onions, so I usually add at least a cup, maybe more.   Let those soften for a few minutes, then add the garlic.  Give that a few minutes, then stir in the veggies.   Add a good sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper, and a few spoonfuls of dried oregano and basil.  Note:  At this point, people may start coming into the kitchen and asking when dinner is.

Stir the meat back in, then add the jar of starter sauce.  You probably have a favorite, but if not, try a few until you do!   Add the kicker sauce, too.  This could be a tub of purchased basil or sun dried tomato pesto, or (in this case) pizza sauce.  Blending these in makes it even more "homemade" tasting, because the flavors are more complex and layered. Start by using just  half the jar/tub of kicker sauce at first, then add more if you like.  Add a generous splash of red wine.  Taste, throw in more of anything you like, then allow the sauce to simmer for a few minutes, or even longer if you have the time.  It gets better if you do.     

You can serve it immediately, on top of cooked pasta.   Really good way to go.  Or, if you feel inspired, say by a blog post with photos that made your mouth water as you were reading, you can go a step further and make a baked spaghetti dinner.

Line the bottom of a baking dish with a layer of your MLS.  In a large bowl, combine the remaining sauce with the pasta (should be undercooked by a minute or two), a generous amount of grated cheese (a combo of Trader Joe's shredded mozzarella and their Quatro Fromaggio mix works great), and some more chopped fresh basil.   Turn that mixture into the baking dish, and cover it with more shredded cheese.  Cover like a blanket.  That's how much cheese.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or so, until it's all gooey and bubbling.

Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes, then serve**.

* For example, Bereavement Pasta.  The sauce in that recipe is one of my favorite variations of MLS.
** If you want to move from making your family very happy to making them your slaves for life, serve The Bread on the side.  Of course, you will also then have to up your health insurance coverage, due to the extreme amount of cheese and butter involved.  

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