Sunday, December 6, 2009

Have You Seen Chef Academy On The Bravo Channel Yet?

I still have some pie recipes coming your way from my Thanksgiving meal (the pumpkin pie was to DIE FOR!), but first I have to tell you about "Chef Academy" on Bravo.  It's similar to "Top Chef" but it's more like a reality cooking school of talented, but not necessarily professional chefs.   And, you can actually get some of the recipes off the website, which I did and made Grandma Louise's Homemade Tomato Sauce.  Chef Novelli is the main attraction of the show and is quite entertaining in his own French-Italian kinda way.

Anyway, so I made the tomato sauce today and it was....different.  I have never made sauce completely from scratch.  I always cheat a little using one large can of diced tomatoes(if you can find a medium can use that but I never seem to be able to), one medium can of pure, organic tomato sauce and 1-2 tablespoons of pesto (the refrigerated kind not the jarred kind).  I also use several cloves of garlic-pressed, occasionally fresh chopped basil if I have it in the house, 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and about 1/2 cup spinach or kale (whichever I have) chopped. I combine all the ingredients into a large pot and bring it to a slow boil on the stove.  It's best to let it simmer on low heat for at least 30 minutes before using, but if you want true flavor, let it simmer on low heat for up to an hour and then let it sit on the stove for a couple of hours (or you can refrigerate it overnight), heat it up and serve.  This gives the sauce time to embrace all the flavors and evaporate some excess moisture.

Chef Novelli's recipe is quite different than mine.  He uses whole tomatoes (6lbs! I did half that and made enough sauce for two healthy servings), star anise (I had no clue what this even was!), vanilla bean--yep, not vanilla extract or vanilla flavoring, the actual bean.  These things cost an arm and a leg too so just get one,-- thyme (although if you go and watch his video he doesn't say anything about it but it's on the ingredient list),  garlic, olive oil, bay leaf, salt and pepper and sugar.

First, you take the tomatoes and cut them in half, cutting out the core/top--I was lucky and got some really nice tomatoes from the farmer's market at half price.  Even got a big heirloom.  Then put them all face down in a large heavy pan that has been preheated.  Add some salt and pepper as well as a bit  of sugar although I'm not a fan of sugar, but to each one's own.  Let them boil for a few minutes and then reduce heat, mash with a masher, and add the star anise (I used two of the stars and it was quite a powerful flavor).  Add the vanilla bean as well but first cut it down the center and scrape out the inside and put in the pan along with the shell of the bean.  Trust me, at almost $5 a bean you don't want to waste it!  I only used half of one since I was doing half the recipe and it was very strong. Throw in a bay leaf for good measure and a pinch or two of Thyme.  I added a pinch early and then another pinch toward the end (the thyme should be finely chopped).

Now let it simmer uncovered for about an hour or two until it's not so watery from the tomato juices.  For the finale, add 2-3 sprigs of the basil whole--just throw it all in!  Chef Novelli taught a cool way to prepare garlic cloves.  You put the cloves of garlic on a cutting board, take your kitchen knife (the big wide one) and rest it on it's side on top of an unsuspecting clove.  Then mash it hard!  It splits the garlic and makes it easier to peel the skin off.  Then you just throw 'em in as is!  Here's where you add the olive oil too, but make sure to do it slowly while stirring so it will blend well.  Let cook until the basil is softened and voila! I think I cooked it another 20 minutes and mashed the garlic a bit more with a wooden spoon while it was cooking.  Cook up a bit of pasta with some baked chicken breast, a side of sautéed Swiss chard with lemon, garlic and sesame oil and a fine glass of chianti and you've got yourself a nice dish!

There are more recipes on Bravo too.  I'm going to try the risotto next.  But I still have to tell you about my pies...mmmm...wish I had some right now.

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