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An all-purpose sauce covers all

November 23, 2015

Prep School - tomato sauce.

I don’t remember how I came up with my all-purpose sauce.

I know I was making a pot roast. The sauce tastes best when it begins with a pot roast. I suppose I was just looking for something new to do, pot-roastwise.

I was probably just playing around with flavor combinations I liked while looking for a way to make a cheap cut of meat more tender. So I began with a can of tomato purée or maybe crushed tomatoes (but I have also used diced tomatoes to excellent effect).

If tomatoes will make a chuck roast more tender, I theorized, then perhaps a little more acid in the form of orange juice will help break down the tough meat even more. I had an orange on hand; I squeezed it and drained the juice into the pot. Simple.

And then I added the spices that I think make the sauce stand out from pretty much anything else, ever: cloves and cinnamon.

Cinnamon and cloves are probably the two most predominant spices in my favorite kind of chili (both are used in Greek cooking and the chili was invented by Greek immigrants). So they were on my mind when I first came up with the sauce, and ever since, and long before it.

A delicate hand is necessary for these spices in this sauce. You don’t want to go overboard with them. You want them to contribute to the flavor rather than overwhelm it; subtlety is the key. I use just two cloves, maybe three, and one stick of cinnamon.

Red wine goes in there, too, and onions and garlic for additional aromatic punch.

I made it, I tasted it and I realized right then that I had developed my all-purpose sauce.

Here’s what I mean: I made it again last week (the first time was years ago). Last week’s version was used as a braising liquid in which I cooked a hunk of beef.

That was the first night. The second night, I cut the leftover beef into cubes and served it on top of egg noodles with the sauce as a kind of pasta sauce. None of the beef was left for the third night, so I used the remaining sauce as a flavoring for ground turkey — sloppy joe style — that I served over rice.

Three nights, three different preparations, one sauce. It’s versatile that way. And I actually made four different preparations, because the second night I also put slices of the beef on bread and covered it with the sauce for an open-faced sandwich. I just didn’t mention it because I didn’t want to seem like a pig.

Putting together a sauce like this and coming up with new ways to use it highlight two of the related things I enjoy most about cooking. I love seeing what I happen to have in the fridge, or the spice rack, and determining how I can use it for that night’s meal.

On that particular night several years and two cities ago, I had an orange on hand, little bottles of cloves and cinnamon and a bigger bottle of wine. The idea started with buying a chuck roast at the store and blossomed from there.

Which is part and parcel of the second thing I love about cooking: the creativity of it all. I am entranced — no, thrilled — by the sheer act of taking independent ingredients and combining them in ways to create something new, fresh and magical.

Then, of course, I get to eat it. That may be the best part of all.

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ALL-PURPOSE SAUCE

Yield: 6 servings

1 (3-pound) hunk of beef, preferably inexpensive, optional

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 cup dry red wine

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, tomato purée, chopped tomatoes or diced tomatoes, with juice

Juice from 1 juicy orange or 2 not-very-juicy oranges

2 to 3 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. If using beef: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Liberally season hunk of beef with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium high heat and sear meat until brown on all sides. Remove meat and set aside.

2. If not using beef: Put oil in a pot over medium-high heat.

3. Add onion and sauté until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add wine and stir to dissolve any brown bits that may be on the bottom of the pan. Cook until wine is reduced by half. Stir in tomatoes, orange juice, cloves and cinnamon. Return meat to pot, if using, and turn in liquid until all sides of meat are coated.

4. If using meat, cover and cook in the oven for 1 hour until done. If not using meat, lower temperature and gently simmer on stove for 30 minutes.

Per serving: 366 calories; 14 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 76 mg cholesterol; 23 g protein; 37 g carbohydrate; 9 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 2351 mg sodium; 56 mg calcium.

Recipe by Daniel Neman

 

 


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