Monday, September 1, 2014

Miracle Mirepoix

Mirepoix is my favorite word. To me, the word invokes every comfort of home cooking and family and love and good food.

For those who don't know, a mirepoix contains mostly equal parts onions, carrots, and celery, finely diced. It appears in many, many dishes, from osso buco (braised veal shanks) to soups. There are no more versatile vegetables than carrots, onions, and celery, and together they are unstoppable, invincible.

I have often daydreamed about going back in time to meet the first person to have used that delectable combination of vegetables in a dish. He (or she!) must have been a culinary genius. The first person credited with using this specific combination is the chef of Gaston Pierre
de Lévis, an aristocrat during Louis XV's reign in France. But the technique had no doubt been in existence long before.

Tonight I made my first from-scratch pasta sauce. As I chopped the vegetables for my sauce (the aforesaid mirepoix, zucchini, and heirloom baby tomatoes), I noticed how good everything smelled, even before I started sautéing. Truly, these are miraculous, marvelous plants.

As big a fan as I am of the mirepoix, I am as equally as big a fan of sautéing. It is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to cook vegetables. I browned my meat (a chicken, feta, and spinach sausage, out of the casing) first, which meant that I didn't use olive oil to sauté the vegetables and that they could cook in rich, yummy, meaty juices. After the onions had started to get translucent and the carrots and zucchini were softer, I added to the pan petite cut tomatoes in a light puree from a carton. I covered the pan and let it simmer on low heat while I cooked the pasta.

Mirepoix+zucchini+heirloom cherry tomatoes+sausage

My national pride goes completely out the window when I cook, especially for Italian foods. I only buy imported Italian olive oil (extra virgin, of course) and imported Italian pasta. The carton of tomatoes I bought were also from Italy. For good Italian food, you have to use good Italian ingredients. Though I am on a student budget, I see no problem in splurging for the good stuff, especially when it yields yummy results:

Simmering, scrumptious, savory sauce

Double, double, toil and trouble! Fire burn and pasta boil!

The final result: a large, hot, deliciously yummy bowl of pasta.

Now that I have successfully made my own pasta sauce, I don't know that I can ever go back to Ragu. It's official: I'm a pasta snob, and I have the marvelous mirepoix to thank.

Recipe: (I got about about 4 servings from this)

1/4 yellow onion
1 stalk celery
8-10 baby carrots (or probably about 1 regular-sized carrot)
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 zucchini
1 26 oz. carton of diced tomatoes in puree
1 sausage, casing removed

Fusilli pasta (The spirals hold the sauce nicely. Spaghetti would also work.)

Parmesan cheese

  1. Brown the sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat. Break up large chunks of the sausage into smaller pieces.
  2. Add onion, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions start to turn translucent.
  3. Add in cherry tomatoes and zucchini. When carrots and zucchini start to get soft, turn heat to low and add in carton of diced tomatoes.
  4. Cover and let simmer while pasta cooks. Once pasta has cooked (usually 9-11 minutes for al dente) and drained, stir in enough of the sauce to lightly coat the pasta. This prevents the pasta from gumming up and sticking together, and makes the flavor of the sauce integrate into the entire dish.
  5. Serve pasta with sauce on top. Top with Parmesan to taste.

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