Jun 22

On a trip to Sicily my parents took a cooking class with an old Italian grandmother who taught them the most surprisingly simple and delicious recipe for tomato sauce. In our family it is now used on everything from pasta to pizza, and always as a topping on breaded Italian cutlets. True to the Italian way, its list of ingredients are minimal but need to be the highest quality possible if the sauce is to shine.

And shine it does.  Rather than sautéing onions and garlic in oil, and adding tomatoes at the very end this version does everything in reverse.  Starting with the best crushed Italian tomatoes (or local tomatoes at the height of their season, crushed by hand) added to a completely dry pot, the mixture is simmered gently until some of the juice evaporates and the pulp condenses. Then off the heat two cloves of grated raw garlic are added in along with a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil, again each being the most flavorful you can afford. Aside from seasoning with salt and freshly cracked pepper, the sauce is essentially done.

What you are left with is almost more of a compote than a sauce, and the heft of the tomatoes is amplified by their concentrated taste. Because the olive oil is folded in raw, along with the garlic, it not only anoints the sauce with a grassy fruitiness, but also creates a silky mouth feel and beautiful shine.

I recently applied this sauce to another use when I stumbled upon squash blossoms at the farmer’s market last weekend. I love the idea of these gold, orange and green hued blooms that are such beautiful vessels for something wonderful stuffed inside. I decided to fill them on this occasion with a three cheese blend of fresh ricotta, mozzarella and asiago along with chopped parsley and basil. After frying in a light batter, the cheeses melded together and oozed from within and the blossoms were perfect dipped into the Sicilian tomato sauce.

Recipe:

Ingredients:

For the squash blossoms:

12 large squash blossoms, inside stamen removed

½ C fresh, whole milk ricotta

½ C fresh, whole milk mozzarella, diced

¼ C Asiago cheese, grated

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp freshly cracked pepper

1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley

1 Tbsp fresh basil, thinly sliced

olive oil for frying

For the batter:

¾ C all purpose flour, plus extra for dredging

2 C sparkling water

1 tsp kosher salt

For the tomato sauce:

1, 28 oz. can good quality Italian crushed tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Method

For the squash blossoms:

Combine the cheeses, salt, pepper and herbs in a bowl. Gently peel back enough of the blossom to be able to stuff about a tablespoon of filling (depending on size of the blossom) inside then fold the sides back up to cover.  Make the batter by gradually whisking the sparkling water into the flour until a thin batter forms. Season this with salt.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan.  Dredge each stuffed blossom in enough flour just to dust it then dip it in the batter to lightly coat. Immediately place the blossom into the oil. Repeat with remaining blossoms and fry until golden brown on all sides. Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel lined plate. Season with salt immediately. The fried squash blossoms can be kept warm in a 250 degree oven for up to 10 minutes before serving.

For the sauce:

Heat the crushed tomatoes in a medium saucepan until they reach a simmer. Allow to cook uncovered for about 10 minutes or until half of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes begin to thicken. Turn the heat off then stir in the grated garlic and olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

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