Last summer, I dated a man I affectionately called Fred Flintstone. He garnered this nickname because of his caveman-like eating habits. He had many wonderful virtues, but his palate was not one of them. His diet consisted of three things: chicken parmesan, pizza and kung pao chicken.
Since eating out is one of my favorite pastimes, I wanted to expand his repertoire and expose him to new flavors so we could eat together at a greater variety of restaurants. I had a plan: start with the basics and refine them. I thought, “I’ll make him the best friggin’ chicken parm he’s ever eaten!”
Off to Whole Foods: I bought organic, free range chicken, fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, and brioche for homemade bread crumbs. For the sauce, I had organic, heirloom tomatoes that I canned. I proudly served him my masterpiece: The chicken was cooked perfectly, properly seasoned and juicy. The mozzarella had a light golden crust and the crunchy bread crumb crust with seasoned with the parmesan cheese and olive oil.
He said, “Your sauce could use a little tomato paste.”
He ate more broccoli than chicken, which was a particularly bad sign since vegetables were not part of his regular diet. I was thoroughly demoralized.
I wouldn’t tell him this, but he wasn’t completely wrong. The sauce was watery. Tomato paste was not necessarily the answer but it did need thickening – either by longer cooking or by using a less juicy tomato.
Out of this came a new way of making tomato sauce that does not require long simmering and stirring. I roast roma tomatoes, sliced in half, with garlic cloves and shallots. When everything is slightly browned and caramelized, I puree it all with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs.
Why did we break up, you ask? Because he was a hopeless caveman, and I couldn’t convince him to try foods beyond his basic three dishes. Perhaps, I had diminished his culinary trust in me with watery tomato sauce. He never did try the improved version. But I have a new red sauce recipe to remember him by.
Fred Flintstone Tomato Sauce3 pounds plum tomatoes, cut in half, lengthwise
2 shallots, peeled and cut in half
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2-3 stalks fresh thyme
½ cup olive oil
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 sprig basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Toss tomatoes with shallots, garlic, thyme and oil.
Roast the tomatoes in the oven for 30 minutes at 400F or until tomatoes are tender and the garlic is lightly browned.
3. Puree the tomatoes with garlic and shallots in a food processor. When smooth, add basil and puree for 10 seconds more just to chop. Adjust seasoning with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
Broccoli that even a Caveman will eat1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1//4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 squeeze lemon juice.
Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add garlic and chili flakes. When garlic starts to brown add broccoli. Stir to coat in olive oil and garlic. Add ¼ cup of water to steam broccoli. When water evaporates and broccoli is bright green, season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.