Okay, here we go. Let's start with the basics.
How to cook:
- Read the recipe;
- Buy the ingredients;
- Do what the recipe tells you to do;
- End of story.
Anybody who tells you it's more complicated than that is lying.
Now, how to cook something good: marinara sauce.
A good marinara sauce is the secret of life. It is the measure of an Italian woman's worth. Sauce is as individual to an Italian family as a tartan is to a Scottish clan. A grown man, if he is Italian, will get tears in his eyes when he talks about his mother's sauce. My daughter, Nikki (or “Nicky” like her grandfather, four of her uncles, and three-quarters of her cousins), says you need to marry “up” in sauce. My husband married me anyway, but clearly expected improvement.
One day, my father-in-law gave me a cookbook, a little pamphlet called "The Italian Cookbook"*. Just a subtle hint, you know. Just enough to make me feel like a total loser in the cucina department. In this cookbook was a recipe for the best marinara sauce in the world, which I have adapted for practical purposes (i.e., I'm lazy), and which I have made at least once a week for the past 200 years. This sauce is so fast and easy that you can make it while waiting for the pasta water to boil. While you're doing your nails.
Peel some garlic and slice it real thin. ("Ma! How much is some?" "How much you like garlic, Nikki?") Four to six cloves. Then pour 1/2 cup of olive oil in a pot. Put the pot over medium heat and, when the oil is hot, throw in the garlic. Cook until light brown. Meanwhile, take two cans (the big ones) of plum tomatoes and put them - one at a time - in a blender, just for a second. Just until the tomatoes bust up. If you don't have a blender - or if you want to be Italian about it - bust up the tomatoes with your (clean, right?) hands (take off your jewelry first). Then pour the tomatoes into the oil-and-garlic. Add 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of oregano, 1 teaspoon of finely-chopped parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. The parsley and pepper should be fresh, but it's not a disaster if they aren't. Simmer everything rapidly for about 20 minutes. And stir it once in a while.
That's it. People have told me that they cook their marinara sauce all day. They're stupid. Now go to confession and beg God's forgiveness that you ever opened a bottle of Prego.
Serve the sauce over pasta. Or risotto. Or polenta. With some grated parmigiano, some good bread, and a salad. Add chicken broth and call it soup. Crack an egg into it while it's simmering. Add beans. Whatever. This sauce will be your reputation long after people forget that one time you were caught smoking weed with the band at your sister's wedding.
And I am not lying when I tell you that Stefanie Policastro’s boyfriend was down on bended knee, with the ring, not one week after Stefanie finally learned how to make marinara sauce. They'd been playing house for four years. (Four years. Are you kidding?) So, believe me, this is wonderful, powerful stuff.
Use it wisely.
*Culinary Arts Institute, Chicago, 1956. Out of print. I hope I owe them royalties someday.