A saucy gift from the kitchen
This time of year many of us are up to our ears in butter, flour and sugar as we mix and pat and roll and bake. Many holiday bakers will wrap up their homemade cookies, candies and breads to share as gifts.
I've been doing that for years. It's a tradition I grew up with. My mom was a fantastic baker and her Christmas goodies, made with real butter, were something friends, neighbors and her co-workers looked forward to each year.
When our boys were young, my husband and I would scoot them into the car, carefully load all the plates and small tins of Christmas cookies into the trunk and off we'd go to make deliveries on a Saturday before Christmas. At some stops, we'd be invited in for holiday snacks, turning our deliveries into an all-day event. And even now, the sharing of holiday treats continues. It's always been one of my favorite holiday activities.
If you're just not into holiday baking and candy-making, but would still enjoy sharing a homemade gift from your kitchen, why not cook up something that can be turned into a meal on a busy day?
Scrumptious, homemade soups and sauces are always appreciated. Scooped into a brand new freezer-safe glass container, a large canning jar or old jars discovered at antique shops or second-hand stores make perfect holders of homemade soups and sauces. Add a pretty bow and, voila.
This year, I'm ladling Italian Tomato Sauce into jars for gifting. It's a recipe that I got years ago after spending a weekend in my mom's kitchen with Johnny Nicosia, a jolly Italian man who worked with my dad. He taught us to roast bones, mince a bunch of fresh garlic, sauté onions until they reached the color of caramel and simmer sauce all day long. My mom and dad's house swelled with the aroma of garlic and cooking tomatoes that day, just like an Italian restaurant.
It had been a long, long time since I last pulled out the directions for making that sauce, handwritten by Nicosia's wife that day many years ago.
When my son and daughter-in-law were here for Thanksgiving weekend, we decided to make a spaghetti dinner. Out came Johnny Nicosia's recipe.
With a few slight changes to his original instructions, Johnny Nicosia's sauce simmered in a large pot filled with caramelized onions, garlic, seasonings, roasted bones and lots of crushed tomatoes. That evening, our spaghetti dinner was a satisfying reward for resisting the fragrant temptation that had been luring us to the pot all day.
Italian Tomato Sauce does not require any extraordinary kitchen skills to create. Its long cooking time with little attention required won't keep you away from other holiday tasks.
Once you've made the sauce, you can get as elaborate as you'd like with the gift. It's a winner given alone. But package the sauce with one or two other related items and it becomes a meal kit. Tuck in a loaf of your homemade Italian bread. Or how about a chunk of your favorite parmesan cheese with a cheese grater and a package of spaghetti noodles? You can get as extravagant as you want with an Italian meal kit.
This year, share the gift of homemade edibles and enjoy the season of giving. You'll have so much fun, you may decide it's something you want to continue throughout the year.
Italian Tomato Sauce
1 1/2 pounds pork neck bones
1 1/2 pounds beef soup bones
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cups chopped onions
1/4 cup minced fresh garlic
6 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Rub bones with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan. Roast the bones, uncovered, in 350-degree oven for 1 1/2 hours.
In a large (8-quart) pot, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and sauté until they turn brown. Add garlic and sauté for just another minute or two. Add crushed tomatoes and roasted bones. Add basil, parsley and oregano, pinching them as you sprinkle them into the pot. Add red pepper flakes and black pepper. Mix well. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. Reduce to a low, gentle simmer. Cover pot. Cook all day, 6 to 8 hours. Whenever you walk through the kitchen, open the pot and give the sauce a stir.
Remove pot from stove. Pull out the bones. If there is meat to pick off the bones, you can add it to the sauce. Taste the sauce, add some salt and adjust seasonings to your liking.
Ladle sauce into freezer containers or jars for gift-giving. Keep some for yourself and have spaghetti for supper. Makes about 4 quarts of sauce.
Tips from the cook
--If you canned tomatoes at the end of last season, use those in this Italian Tomato Sauce. If not, use quality canned crushed tomatoes. My favorite is the Glen Muir Organic Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes.
--I use a small amount of red pepper flakes in the sauce and offer more at the table for those who like more fiery heat.