It took me a month or two to return the favor and cook dinner for the vegetarian. In those days, I was a prolific meat-cooker and my signature dish was roast leg of lamb, closely followed by baked fish or rib-eye steaks -- none of which were suitable for the vegetarian, of course! Not to mention that, knowing what a notoriously picky eater he was, I didn't want to make anything too adventurous. I wanted to make something he (and I) knew he would like.
I thought about making my own version of baked ziti but that just seemed both obnoxious and cheating. So I thought back to our second date, when he took me to his favorite restaurant in Little Italy, Benito One. He had ordered spaghetti pomodoro and declared it hands-down his favorite meal. However, whenever he made spaghetti at home, I knew he always used canned tomato sauce. So I decided to make him a red sauce from scratch.
May was very busy (and filled with Italian food) for us, with the vegetarian's birthday and both of us working on several projects. We returned to Benito One, where the vegetarian now orders Eggplant Parmesan with a side of Spaghetti Pomodoro, for his birthday. But we both missed having my homemade tomato sauce at home. So for our Monthly Cooking Adventure, I made Spaghetti and Meatballs, with quinoa spaghetti and chicken meatballs (on the side, of course). Our friends made a tiramisu and the vegetarian blew us all away with a new variation on his signature sangria.
Never one to rest on my laurels, I decided to adapt Gwyneth Paltrow's recipe for Tomato Sauce as I especially liked her addition of frying the basil along with the garlic. I also added in some dried basil along with the pepper to bring in that anise flavor I love. The vegetarian couldn't stop raving. Bon appetit!
Go-To Tomato Sauce
adapted from It's All Good
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 4 leaves basil
- 2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes and their juice
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add garlic and cook 5 minutes. Add 2 basil leaves and cook an additional minute. Add tomatoes (breaking them up with your hands) and their juice and remaining fresh basil. Turn the heat to high, bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Add dried basil, black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes. Serve over spaghetti, meatballs -- whatever. Enjoy!