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Spaghetti sauce and splatter shields. May 19, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , ,

Silence Dogood here. Last night was cold, rainy, and miserable here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Good for the plants, bad for the spirits. This called for rich, spicy, warming food, and my homemade spaghetti sauce fit the bill perfectly. With a huge, crunchy salad and a glass of red wine, it’s guaranteed to lift anybody’s spirits!

I’ll give you the recipe in a moment, but first, I have to say a few words in praise of whoever invented the splatter shield. Splatter shields are round screens with long handles that sit on top of pots and pans and keep whatever’s cooking in them from splattering out all over the place and/or all over you. They’re especially helpful with thick sauces and hot cereals, which have to cook until they’re super-thick while you stand over the stove and stir (and stir, and… ).

Spaghetti sauce is one of the worst culprits, since it not only splatters all over the stove and everything on it and the nearest counter, but if it gets on your clothes, it’s fiendishly difficult to get out. My other nemesis in this regard is grits. Grits cooked right are delicious, but the only good grits are thick enough to eat with a fork, and as they thicken to this stage, they spit. Trust me, having a blob of molten grits land on your bare arm is one of the more painful ways to start your day.

Before I discovered splatter shields, cooking either of these dishes was, if not torture, at least scary. But with the splatter shield firmly in place, the stove and I are spared from random attacks. And when I lift the shield to stir, I can use one hand and angle it to protect myself while stirring with the other. (No wonder they call it a “shield”!) Bless you, splatter shield inventor, whoever you are.

Now, on to the sauce. Because I’m a vegetarian, this is a meatless sauce, but it’s so thick and rich you’d never know it. For years, I added diced zucchini to thicken the sauce, after discovering that the zukes would cook completely down and simply add texture rather than remaining recognizable. (If you’d like to try this version, dice three medium-size zukes into small dice and add them to the sauce after you add the green pepper.) But this past year, I inadvertently discovered (while making sauce with no zucchinis on hand) that the sauce was just as thick and rich without them, so these days, I skip that step.

Like a soup or stew, this sauce is extremely forgiving. If you don’t have crushed tomatoes, you can substitute tomato sauce. If you’d like a bit more spice and crunch, toss in a carton of fresh salsa. No green peppers in the house? See how a yellow, orange, or red pepper does. Have two green peppers in the house that you need to use right away? Put them both in.

There are just two ironclad rules: First, you must cook the sauce over low heat until it is incredibly thick and rich, and that means standing over the stove and stirring. And second, you must include the two “secret ingredients,” red wine and sugar, both of which deepen the flavor. (For those who avoid alcohol, remember that the alcohol itself evaporates out during cooking.)

That’s it, then! Here we go:

                  Silence’s Spaghetti Sauce

2 large onions, diced (you can use sweet or cooking onions or one of each)

4 large cloves garlic, minced

2 large cartons button mushrooms, sliced, then sliced again crosswise

1 large green bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme, and Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) 

1 teaspoon each dried rosemary, marjoram, black pepper (we like lemon pepper) and hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

1 large (12-ounce) can tomato paste

1 large (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon sugar

dry red wine (chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, or whatever you have on hand)

extra-virgin olive oil

shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese

I always start by putting a huge, heavy pot of water, covered, on the stove to boil. (I use my biggest LeCreuset Dutch oven for the pasta and my second-biggest for the sauce.) Once I see that the water has come to a full boil, I’ll turn it off, leaving it covered, until it’s time to cook the pasta. The heavy pot retains the heat, so it will just take a minute or two to return that big pot of water to a boil rather than the 10 or 15 minutes or more it would take if I were starting with cold water.

Next, I pour a liberal amount of olive oil in another large, heavy pot, making sure the oil covers the bottom of the pot. Turning the heat on low, I wait until the oil is starting to heat up, then add the diced onions, minced garlic, and Trocomare or salt. When the onions have clarified, add the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms have released their liquid, add the dried herbs, black pepper, and hot sauce, stirring well. Add the diced green pepper. (Now’s the time to add those diced zukes if you want them.) Add the tomato paste, stirring until it completely coats the veggies. Add the crushed tomatoes, stirring until the sauce is totally blended.

Now for those “secret ingredients”: Once the sauce is hot, sprinkle the sugar over the top, stirring it in. Then pour a ring of wine around the perimeter of the pot and stir that in.

That’s all there is to it! Now it’s just a waiting game. Put your splatter shield in place (I use my bamboo spoon to weight it down as an extra precaution), turn the heat down as low as you can and still cook the sauce (I have a gas stove, so that’s easy for me), and make a wonderful salad while you wait, watch, and stir every few minutes to prevent burning. (I recommend putting on some great music and having a glass of that wine you added to the sauce to make the time go faster. And don’t forget to enjoy that incredible aroma!)

Once the sauce is super-thick (too thick to come easily off the stirring spoon without scraping), turn the heat to warm (or, in the case of a gas stove, almost off) and put the lid on the pot. (The splatter shield has done its work and can be retired to the sink.) Turn the heat back on under your water, return it to a boil, and add your pasta. (I like traditional thick spaghetti with this, but penne, fettucine, and cheese ravioli are also good. But don’t use a thin pasta with this thick sauce.) Cook the pasta ’til al dente, drain, and serve topped with sauce. Pass around a bowl of shredded Parmesan or Asiago so everyone can take as much or as little as they choose (or skip the cheese all together, the sauce really holds up on its own).

Don’t forget big bowls of that crunchy salad! I like to make a complex salad to serve with spaghetti, with mixed greens—always including Romaine, endive, arugula, and radicchio—diced red onion, scallions (green onions), diced red, yellow, or orange bell pepper (or a combination), diced fresh mozzarella, sliced hard-boiled eggs, fresh basil, and pepitas (roasted, salted pumpkin seeds). Then I dress it simply with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and balsamic vinegar. Yum!

Try my sauce and let me know what you think. And if you haven’t already discovered splatter shields, head to the nearest store that sells kitchenware and get one. You’ll soon be thanking the inventor, too!

                  ‘Til next time,




1. Dave@TheHomeGarden - May 19, 2010

No splatter shield here…we live dangerously! 😉

We add the same two secret ingredients – of course we don’t always have wine on hand though.

Ha! Mercy, Dave! I hope you all at least have full-body aprons, my second line of defense!

2. Elephant's Eye - May 19, 2010

Unshielded here too. I always boil the kettle first, then reheat the hot water in the pot. ‘They say’ you use less energy to boil water in a kettle, than in a pot on the stove-top. (and I just use the pot-lid on the sauce, if it is too sloppy chuck in a handful of soy-mince. Quick and easy meals here)

Interesting tip about the kettle, Diana! It would take me at least three kettles’ worth of boiling water to fill my Dutch oven, though (and I have a sizeable teapot/kettle!). But I can see why the kettle’s shape would make for faster boiling and thus less wasted energy. And yes, adding a thickener is an excellent way to speed the thickening process. I’ll bet that adding the shredded Parmesan or Asiago directly to the sauce rather than sprinkling it on top might work, too. I just love the rich flavor of the slow-cooked sauce, so I’m willing to put up with the standing and stirring.

3. nancybond - May 19, 2010

Shielded here, for sure! I’ve destroyed too many light coloured tops to not use one. 🙂 Your recipe sounds wonderful — we had spaghetti for supper last night, too, with a veggie salad and garlic bread. However, I cheated and just added some sauteed mushrooms, onion, and garlic to ready made sauce. 😉

Ha! I’ve tried “doctoring” ready-made sauce in a pinch, too, Nancy, but OFB and I found the taste too metallic and “light.” (It works on pizza, though, for some reason!) Try this and see what you think!

4. Will - April 12, 2012

I read that butter or oil around the rim of the sauce pot stops splattering because it only cooks below the “butterline”. I tried it tonight with an ultra-thick spag sauce and, voila!, no splatter! Just pour a little olive oil on a napkin and rub the rim around the pot on the inside above the sauce lie!

Great tip, Will, and thanks! You can be sure I’ll try it next time I make my sauce!

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