Nich and I are still keeping up with the new Bravo show, ‘Chef Academy’. The show has grown on me a little bit, but it is still no where near as good of a show as Top Chef. The one thing I do appreciate about this show – and Chef Novelli – is that it actually teaches you how to cook. Just watching the show, I have learned a lot.
In one of the first episodes, Chef Novelli teaches the class how to make his Grandmother’s classic tomato sauce. Nich and I watched in awe as he threw whole fresh tomatoes into a pot and let them cook down into a dense and rich tomato sauce. He added strange seasonings – vanilla bean and star anise – and I think this is what really peaked my interest. A vanilla bean in tomato sauce?
Naturally, I had to try it for myself.
So, I googled the recipe and actually found a few video clips of Chef Novelli teaching his class the recipe. If you’d like to watch him explain it – you can do that right HERE. I think the video is rather helpful (and gives you a good idea for the look/feel of the sauce).
Mind you, I think he skips a few steps in his explanation and uses some vague terms like “herbs” (I want to know the exact herbs he’s throwing in there, darn it!!!). And, if you watch the video you can tell that a lot of this was filmed in post-production (the close-ups are in a yellow pot, but he throws the tomatoes into a silver pot) – which bothers me. But, you get the idea. I followed his instructions, and ended up with and extremely fresh and delicious pasta sauce with just the right hints of sweetness. Novelli does say that the sauce only takes 20 minutes to cook down, but I think he’s lying. I cooked mine for 30 minutes and it still wasn’t that sexy dark red color that he shows on TV. But that’s TV for you, right? I pulled my sauce off the heat after 30 minutes because I was starving and I thought it looked like it was ready to eat. And it was great! I assume that if you cook the sauce for longer, you’ll get a darker, thicker, and more reduced tomato sauce. And now for the recipe!
(My interpretation of) Grandma Louise’s Tomato Sauce
6-8 ripe tomatoes
1 vanilla bean
2 stars of anise
1 – 2 bay leaves
“herbs” – could be any mix of thyme, rosemary, and sage. I just used rosemary as it was all that I had on hand.
Sugar, to taste (1 – 2 tsps)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 Tbl. Red wine vinegar
2 – 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 heaping cup of basil, roughly chopped
1. Remove tomato stems (and green portion on tomato where stem was attached). Cut tomatoes in half.
2. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan (Med-High heat). When the pan is hot, add the tomatoes. Let them simmer for a few minutes, gently stirring or tossing here and there. Add salt, pepper, sugar, star anise and vanilla bean (Note: Chef Novelli splits the bean in half and scrapes the insides and adds them to the pot. It looks like he adds the actual bean to the pot as well. I added the vanilla scrapings and half of the bean, because I didn’t know how vanilla-y I wanted the sauce! This ratio seemed to work well.)
3. Add bay leaves and “herbs”. Continue to simmer, and stir, making sure the tomatoes are breaking down. When they seem really soft, take a spoon (or potato masher) to the tomatoes, to further break them down.
4. Taste after 20 minutes, add seasonings. I find that fresh tomatoes are pretty acidic so I added a good amount of sugar, salt, and pepper. I can’t remember if I added a little bit of Cayenne pepper into the sauce, but I tend to put cayenne pepper in EVERYTHING so I probably did.
5. When the sauce has reduced down to the desired consistency you want, take out the bay leaves, vanilla bean and star anise. Fold in smashed garlic and the basil, and then take off the heat. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the sauce. Serve with pasta, meat, bread, etc! I served mine over fresh spaghetti from Pasta Works (yum!).