By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts and Pastry Arts Graduate
“Comfort Food” is one of those terms that is difficult to define in an academic sense. I’ve tackled this discussion before, but I’m not entirely sure I did it justice. “Food that makes you feel good” isn’t really enough—by that definition, fast food can be comfort food, and putting that crap in the same category as my mom’s cooking makes me uncomfortable.
But in drawing that comparison, I couldn’t help but think that maybe comfort food is also the kind of food that brings back fond memories. I recall the scene from Ratatouille where food critic Anton Ego tries Remi’s final dish and is instantly transported to his childhood, with his mom fixing him some ratatouille because he’d skinned his knee.
This idea solidified in my head during a visit from my parents last week for my Culinary Arts program graduation (which I will be writing about later in the week). I had promised to show off my kitchen chops while they were here, and my dad requested spaghetti and meatballs. Tressa made her meatballs (they’re much better than mine) but I handled the sauce. As my mom gave me the occasional pointer, I was also transported back to my days as a kid, asking Mom questions about what she had made for dinner while asking for seconds.
Comfort food is what you make of it. It’s food as a balm for the soul—a semi-spiritual experience that’s best left undefined. Food whose flavor and aroma comes paired with fond memories. And so with that in mind, here is the comfort food recipe that transports me back to childhood faster than meeting with old friends. You might want to give it a try, though you’ll have to supply your own memories!
Ryan’s Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce
I know there are more technically correct terms, and it’s probably closer to a marinara than anything else. But growing up, my mom always called this “spaghetti sauce” and so I’m going to keep that tradition alive.
Three 14.5 oz cans fire roasted tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
2-3 T Vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic
1 t Oregano
1 t Basil
1 t Rosemary
½ t Cumin
½ t Red pepper
Salt and Black Pepper to Taste
2 fresh tomatoes
Peel and puree the two onions and garlic in a blender, then lightly saute at the bottom of a sauce or stock pot in the vegetable oil. As that is cooking, puree the tomatoes (but not the paste).
When the onions are lightly golden in color, pour the purreed tomatoes over the onions (you could use tomato puree, but it never gives me the same flavor as diced tomatoes that you puree yourself). Set to simmer and add the herbs and spices, except the parsley. Also hold off on the salt and pepper until the end, because the sauce is going to reduce slightly and you don’t want to oversalt. Cover and set to simmer for 45 minutes.
Stir in your tomato paste until the sauce is nice and uniform and set to simmer for another 45 minutes. While that is going, do a rough dice on your remaining onion, tomatoes, and roughly chop your parsley, and set aside for plating (my mom skipped this step because she was cooking for hungry boys who didn’t care, but come on—as an Escoffier graduate, I have to do something nice with my plating or my eyes twitch!)
When the second 45 minutes is up, your sauce may be a little too thick for your liking. You can thin it out with water (though I recommend beef or chicken stock) and get it back to where you want it. If you made meatballs, or have any leftover sausage from a previous night, or just want to make your sauce more savory with some diced beef or chicken, add that to the pot now and let it cook until done. Don’t forget to season with salt and pepper!
I recommend angel hair because it’s my personal favorite, but you can serve this sauce over any kind of pasta. Just boil, drain, and then stir some of the sauce into the cooked pasta while it’s still warm. This will help the pasta absorb your sauce (increasing flavor) and keep it from turning into a congealed ball.
Plate the pasta in a nest at the center of your dish, then spoon extra sauce and whatever meat you have over the top. Place a layer of diced onions on that, followed by diced fresh tomato, and then parsley. Then enjoy!