Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Favorite 30 Minute Meal

In general, the best part of my day is coming home and cooking a delicious meal. I find solace in the sound of my knife as it slices through food and bounces rhythmically off my board, and I am at ease watching a simple sauce boil down to a silky reduction. But on occasion, there is a work day so heinous and exhausting that even the thought of comfort food can not overcome. It's on those days that I reach into my pot of tricks and pull out a recipe culled from my childhood, usually making something inspired by my mother.

Even though she was a working mom with an hour long commute, my mother always managed to come home and make my father and I a delicious meal from scratch. Some took longer than others, depending on what was on hand and exactly how tired she was, but it was always great. One of my favorite dishes that she made on a "tired" night was a quick and dirty version of pasta bolognese. We all hate jarred tomato sauce in my family, so we always make it from scratch, usually with more of a Spanish twist to it (rosemary, thyme and a bit of smoky cumin instead of basil and oregano).

For me, on a night when all I want is comfort food with minimal effort, this is the go-to recipe. To save time, just buy plain tomato sauce or puree (I use Goya Spanish style tomato sauce) instead of crushed tomatoes. You won't have to wait for them to cook down, and for 20 minutes cook and prep time, the flavor is well worth it. Heat up 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a small pot or skillet. Drop in 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, and half an onion, minced. Once the garlic starts to brown, add in the tomato sauce (I use two small cans of the Goya) and be careful, it splatters. Once it comes to a boil, add in the spices of your choice. I like a half a tsp thyme and a 1/4 tsp each rosemary, cumin and red pepper flake, but use whatever spice you like in your homemade sauce, along with 2 tbsp sugar. I know that sounds unorthodox, but trust me, it imparts a really nice flavor contrast. Cover the sauce and simmer while you brown the meat. I just brown regular ground beef in an almost smoking hot pan (to lock in those juices) until the larger chunks are just slightly pink in the middle. Then I add the tomato sauce and wheat pasta and I'm done. The end result is a nice big bowl of comfort, with only 20 minutes of effort.

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