Last week marked one week left until Ryan’s first payday. One week until lavish grocery trips, interior decorating and celebratory treats to ourselves. But I found a way to cook around that fact. When unpacking my pantry in the new house, it occurred to me that I had all the fixings for a red gravy. I sat down with Better Homes and Garden’s Great Cook Book and found 5 meals to be made with a few vegetables from our local produce stand and a pot of red gravy. The experiment became: How far can one pot of red gravy go?
I made my usual 5 quart-ish pot. Nothing fancy, first I sauted the onion and garlic. When the onion became transparent I added the basil, oregano and crushed fennel seeds. Doing this first instead of starting with tomato paste and water, activated the flavors of the onions, garlic and spices, making the sauce a little bolder. Then I added water, tomato paste and celery and brought it to a boil. After the sauce came to a rolling boil I lowered the temperature and let it simmer for 3-4 hours. Since it remained bubbly all three hours, the sauce thickened up so deliciously. This was my inaugural pot of red gravy in our new house.
Since I had spent all day making the sauce and was obviously utterly exausted, our first sauce meal of the week was spaghetti. I
know how boring and un-creative, but Ryan had about three helpings so I count it as much of a success as if I had made lasagna. I tried to redeem my creativity slightly with the second meal.
Eggplant Parmesan came up on two separate occasions with different people in a short period of time. I won’t get superstitious about this but I will say that it got my wheels a-turnin. Ryan does not like eggplant. While visiting the parents of our goddaughter expected in October, I learned that brining eggplant (soaking in salt water like ham) takes the bitterness out of it. I considered this, and it was indeed intriguing. But alas, there were no eggplants at the produce stand. I opted instead for bright yellow summer squash. I knew it was a gamble, but I liked it. Our second meal became Summer Squash Parmesan.
I loosely followed the Eggplant Parmesan recipe in my Better Homes and Garden Cook Book. First, I sliced the squash in 1 1\2 inch slices and fried them in 1\2 inch of oil in my cast iron skillet. It was during this stage that I realized how un-even the burners on our stove were. It was a race against the smoke clock to get the squash browned and crisp.
After the squash was fried I took them out of the pan and dried them on a paper towel. The recipe called to continue using the same pan, but since my burner is not level, my cast iron skillet scorched and I swiched pans. In the new pan (which I stupidly forgot to at least oil) I added the red sauce, mozzarella cheese and squash. This all cooked, covered, together for about twenty mins. According to the recipe, you can put it in a 350 degree oven for half an hour, I opted for stove top. This was utterly delicious! With the cheese, the savory sauce became very creamy and the fried squash was surprisingly sweet. We had no left overs from this meal.
On the third day we took a slight break from red sauce. The irony being, when Ryan finished off the left overs he added sauce to it and it was much improved. For this reason, I include it in this post. Our third meal was Broccoli-Cauliflower Bake.
The recipe called for 4 cups of broccoli florets and 3 cups of cauliflower florets. After a second opinion from Marrian-Webster I cut off the tops of the broccoli and cauliflower and steamed them, covered, in a small amount of water. This softened the veggies then began to crisp the edges. In a separate bowl I mixed 1 tablespoon melted butter and Italian bread crumb. Into a 2 quart (7×11) casserole dish I put the veggies and mixed in a can of cream of chicken soup then covered with the bread crumb mixture. I found, in hindsight, that it is very important to make sure the bread crumb mixture is completely saturated by the butter. If it is still somewhat dry, it will stay dry and not taste as tasty. Baked, covered for 30 mins, this turned into a surprisingly good meal. If we do it again, I’ll add some red sauce before putting the bread crumbs on. Just enough to spread throughout the dish, but not drown the veggies.
Our fourth meal was Saucy Stuffed Shells. I’ve done this meal before and blogged about it so I won’t go into detail. In essence, I stuffed 12 jumbo cooked maccoroni noodles with seasoned ground browned beef and covered with sauce and cheese. This is always a hearty and tasty meal. Between the three of us (I now count Evangeline as a mouth to be fed) we ate 11 shells.
Our fifth and final red sauce week meal after my mom graced us with frozen chicken breasts from Sams’ was Chicken Caccatori. I cut up 2 pounds of skinned, boneless chicken meat and pan seared them in oil. By this time I figured out that I can rotate my pan 180 degrees half way through cooking to counteract the tilt in my burner. I removed the chicken and put in sliced mushrooms in the oil just until they were tender. Then I added the chicken and red sauce back into the pan and cooked just under 20 mins to warm everything together. By this point, we were at the bottom of our pot of red sauce and I just poured the remaining amount in. In theory we would have had enough for another plate of spaghetti or two but I put it all in the caccatori. Once the chicken sauce was heated through, I served over pasta under parmasean cheese. Since I put more than enough sauce, it was thicker than traditional caccatori, and was more like chicken and spaghetti. The chicken got a little rubbery because I cooked it too long, but with the pan fried mushroom slices and the savory sauce, we ate it up none the less.
In conclusion, one 5 quart-ish pot of red sauce will make the following: 4+ plates of Spaghetti, a large skillet worth of Summer Squash Parmesan, 12 jumbo Saucy Stuffed Shells and 2 pounds of Chicken Caccatori with sauce left to spare! The biggest perk I found to sauce week was how simpler these recipes became once the sauce was already prepeared. Most called for diced onion and minced garlic, sauteed and cooked down with canned tomato or tomato paste and various spices. But if you already have a sauce prepared, you cut out 2-3 steps. Even though I don’t really need to save time at this point in my cooking career, it is certainly nice to be able to cut a corner or two. With just a few, inexpensive ingredients and a couple of hours cooking down the sauce, we were able to make 5 meals to last us over a week. What surprised me most was the variety I was able to accomplish using mostly the same ingredients. It wasn’t like eating spaghetti every night (though I don’t think Ryan would have complained much about that), we had a variety of vegetables and meats and over all different flavors. All in all, Red Sauce Week was a delicious and encouraging success!
This week’s ingredient is: Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breasts. I’ve already copped out and done a simple bar-be-que chicken. I am feeling less imaginative and inspired this week. It may be boring, but at least we’ll eat!