I have a confession to make…I don’t subscribe to the whole Valentine’s Day thing. Don’t get me wrong. I love love. I just have a sneaking suspicion Valentine’s Day was invented by Hallmark to sell cards. A billion or so will be exchanged in the U.S. including those tucked into doily covered red and pink envelopes by school children.
Well, according to an article published today on newsFuzion, Valentine’s Day has been celebrated since as early as 1382, but no one really knows who St. Valentine was, (14 martyred saints of the same name were known in ancient Rome) or why he was significant except that one of them was buried on February 14.
It’s a holiday that makes single people feel more isolated, and people in a relationship, obligated. Anniversaries are a wonderful time for couples to celebrate their love together. Why does everyone’s relationship status have to be culled out on one arbitrary day? Love has so many beautiful faces ranging from utter pain to sheer bliss. A heart-shaped box of chocolates and a printed card doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. So why buy in?
My overly cynical views aside, I’m still a sucker for themes. I asked my oldest daughter what we should make for our family Valentine’s dinner, and she immediately said it should be red. We agreed on spaghetti with our homemade sauce and fresh Italian sausage. (Ever since we got the meat grinder attachment for our KitchenAid and Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing by Rytek Kutas, the world has been a better place.) It’s the perfect comfort meal, so sayeth our half-Sicilian heritage. And to me, love and comfort go hand in hand.
For dessert we are having the chocolate bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I baked my first loaf this morning, and am sad to report it will need tweaking. Two-thirds a cup of honey is not enough to sweeten 9 oz of bittersweet chocolate. Next time I will use semisweet chips to help sweeten the deal. Luckily, it’s nothing a little peanut butter and whip cream can’t cure.
To spread the familial love, I’m sharing my quick and easy honorary Italian recipe for spaghetti (and pizza!) sauce. One recipe makes about 5 cups of sauce, enough for 2 spaghetti dinners, but I make a quadruple batch every few months and freeze it. You can measure the remaining sauce into 1, 2, or 3 cup portions into freezer bags and freeze for up to 6 months. Reheat by removing the plastic bag from the frozen sauce and put in a glass bowl. Microwave at regular power, stirring every 1-2 minutes until defrosted, a total of 5-8 minutes.
It’s call Winter Spaghetti Sauce because it’s fabulous even when tomatoes are not in season. The great thing about tomatoes is that their nutrients (lycopenes) are released when cooked, so it’s one of the few canned fruits or vegetables I buy. Cooks Illustrated also recommends canned tomatoes for their consistency of flavor.
P.S. As a bonus, your picky eaters won’t notice there’s spinach in there!
Winter Spaghetti Sauce
1 (14.5 oz) can Italian stewed tomatoes, pureed
1 (15 oz) can plain tomato sauce
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 small bunch fresh spinach (or 2-3 small zucchini)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon dried minced onion (or half small onion finely diced)
1 Tablespoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (add more if you like a little kick)
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon cinnamon (this warm spice is lovely in many comfort foods)
1) Set a large skillet on medium heat and add olive oil. Wash and dry spinach. Chop off and discard root ends (if any). Mince garlic. When your pan is nice and hot, add the spinach and garlic. Sauté 3-4 minutes until spinach is tender, stirring occasionally.
2) Pour stewed tomatoes and juice into blender with the sautéed spinach. Pulse until smooth and pour into a saucepan set to medium heat. Add the tomato sauce, paste, and seasoning to the pan.
3) Gently simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately over noodles, or cool to use as pizza sauce.
Note: Although this recipe is not time consuming, it’s best to cook tomato-based sauces in non-stick rather than cast iron. The acid in tomatoes reacts with the metal. If cooked too long in a metal pot, (hours, not minutes) the metal will leach into your sauce and ruin your pot. Also, be careful how you store it. Don’t use aluminum foil, metal bowls, and most Tupperware. Glass bowls with plastic wrap and freezer bags work well.