Friday, March 03, 2006

Sticker, Sticker, SHOCK! Plus a shout out for recipe suggestions.

A quick stop by the local supermarket yesterday for just one item gave me a near heart attack.

Really, I could feel the air being sucked out of my lungs as I stared at the shelves.

And what exactly did I see that put me in such distress?

Dear reader, it was the price of pasta sauce.

Yes, pasta sauce. The lovely red marinara, vodka and cream varieties you mix into your bowl of pasta.

There on the shelf I saw the numbers flash before me: $6.99, $7.99, and even $8.99!!!

WHAT!!! $8.99 for a jar of boiled tomatoes, herbs and spices? I don’t care how famous a chef is or how celebrated some exclusive restaurant may be, nobody should be charging that much for PASTA SAUCE!

Is there some sort of exquisite ingredient that’s cooked in it? What could cost so much that somebody thinks they can get a way with charging that much for PASTA SAUCE? Nothing I could read off any of their labels indicated a special ingredient—there were no truffles or other expensive foodstuffs. I mean, are they getting their basil off a special farm in a far, far away land? Highly doubtful.

Really, its pasta sauce folks, mostly tomatoes and water. It's probably bottled in a plant somewhere in America. If someone could justify these prices, please do—I can’t find a good reason.

Now, you’re probably asking how come I never knew about the ridiculous prices before yesterday. Well, in college my roommate taught me to make my own sauce and on the few occasions we did buy sauce, on our budgets, it was Prego (which I might add was the cheapest bottle I saw yesterday at $3.29). Even when I moved back to New York, I tended to make my own sauce—though it was a rather simple recipe with little flavor, it was easy enough and I was, quite frankly, just used to making it.

At some point my mother started giving me bottles of Victoria’s Marinara Sauce, which she bought at a discount from a local wholesale close-out store. I used them on occasion, especially when I was short on time. When my stock ran out recently, I thought I should buy a bottle of sauce just for last minute food emergencies.

So on my way home from classes I dropped by the local supermarket and there I stood with my eyes wide opened and my heart beating away.

I can still hear my inner monologue: “$8.99! What the #%&*@!”

After calming down a bit, browsing the shelves and comparing ingredients on the labels, I decided on a jar of Barilla Tomato and Basil sauce (only $3.89, whew!).

As I walked home, my shock gradually turned into curiosity and I realized that I should turn my exasperation into a cooking challenge.

My own old homemade pasta sauces, while perfectly decent, never wowed me either. One of the reasons I always accepted my mother’s donations of Victoria bottles was that unlike my own versions or the Prego, it has a real smooth aftertaste with little acidity, a creamy texture and the flavors are understated. My experiment, therefore, will be to find a recipe that emulates this subtlety.

For this, I am asking readers if they could direct me to their favorite pasta sauce recipes or helpful tips that might help me in this project. Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. And a big “Thank you!” in advance.

P.S. The Barilla wasn’t too bad, but it’s nothing like Victoria and closer in taste to the Prego.

Now, for Weekend Dog Blogging I introduce to you last week's guilty instigator of D's scratched eye:

G is my brother's Alaskan Malamute, a big fluffly cutiepie and a sweetheart (most of the time). We've forgiven him for last week's incident, but according to my dad he's on probabtion in our house. For more adorable better behaved doggies, go check out all the WDB entries over at Sweetnicks!

*Pasta photo is courtesy of John Wise-he's got some great travel photography on his blog. Go check it out!


Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

imagine the price in Malaysia after conversion of USD1 = RM 3.70...

7:06 AM  
Blogger Cate said...

I agree, some of the gourmet and/or celebrity chef sauce recipes are just a bit outrageous. I sent somebody your way ... I think you'll like her recipe. ;)

10:57 AM  
Blogger Alysha said...

Thanks Sweetnicks - here I am. :)

Here is a link to a sauce that I created that has been very well-received and was published in Cooking Light. It's a sweeter sauce and light on the seasonings so that it can be used in a variety of manners. It can easily be adjusted to your own preferences by adding more or less of whatever you like. The key to this sauce is the caramelized onions.

I am working on turning this into a vodka sauce tonight, so you might want to check out my blog to see how it comes out.

Hope that helps. :)

11:06 AM  
Blogger Rose said...

foodcrazee:It would be very expensive indeed!

sweetnicks:Thank you for sending alysha my way!

alysha:Thanks for the link. I'm going to rummage through several recipes and probably make a couple of them in order to find my preference. I am definitely looking for something light in seasonings, nothing to overbearing. I look forward to the vodka sauce recipe!

11:21 AM  
Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

rose - indeed it is and thats y i prefer to cook my own sauce - cheaper that way...kinda hard to find fresh herbs so, we usually stick with dried herbs...different but well, better than non

4:18 AM  
Blogger Mona said...

Nice post Rose...funny I thought I was the only one who gets pricetag-induced hernias.
So, can we expect that at TJ's or are they pretty reasonable? I've really never shopped there before on a regular basis.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Rose said...

foodcrazee:i think with sauces having fresh herbs is great, but dried herbs work pretty well too.

mona:I should've known better, but boy was it truly a shock. I think TJ's is known for more inexpensive products, but with manhattan rents to pay, I hope they don't jack up the prices!

9:44 PM  
Anonymous bea at La Tartine Gourmande said...

ah yes indeed. Sometimes it just gets out of control!!! Maybe there was gold in it! ;-)

12:10 PM  
Blogger Rose said...

bea:i was thinking emeralds and rubies instead of basil and spices :-)

9:32 AM  
Blogger MeBeth said...

I posted my Dad's marinara recipe here

but I'm still tinkering with it. It's a great base from which to make a pink vodka sauce or a seafood marinara, but I'm trying to find a way to add a richer heartier flavor - possibly with mushrooms. Good luck on your quest!

9:14 AM  
Blogger Rose said...

mebeth:Thank you!!!! I'll be working on it this week during my spring break.

Good luck with culinary school!

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL! I know the feeling, the first time I saw the price of some of the sauces. Since I've started to cook, I like to make my own sauce. I used the recipe of Giada on FoodNetwork. Or I just buy the cheapest jar I find in the store -- prego or some other name, which I can't remember right not. I haven't been too picky with sauces. Perhaps, I should be to find the right one out there for me. ;-)

Have a good one!


11:06 AM  
Anonymous Robyn said...

This is, I swear, the best tomato sauce ever. It's from Lynn Rosetto Kaspar's The Regional Italian Table (or sth like that). It's very easy but you need flavorful tomatoes. If your tomatoes are just so-so make half of them tasty cherry tomatoes.

3.5 lbs tomatoes
15 large basil leaves, torn
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 c olive oil

1. Wash the tomatoes and squish them with your hands into a big bowl. For large tomatoes, cut them in half and then squish. This step (as opposed to chopping them) is vital to the texture of the sauce (assuming you don't puree it).

2. Olive oil, salt, pepper, basil leaves, onion and garlic go into a large pot; stir ingredients around so everything is coated with oil. Place over medium-high heat and, once the oil is hot, allow to cook for ONLY 1 MINUTE - just till the scent of basil, garlic, et al rises from the pot. Nothing should be sauteed or wilted.

3. Add tomatoes, give a stir, and lower heat to lively simmer. Cook till reduced and thickish, about 1/2 hour.

4. At this point, puree if you like a smooth sauce or leave chunky.

At this point all you need is some good pasta and a nice pecorino. Yum!

Alternately, substitute some fresh rosemary for the basil and add a pat of butter with the oil.

This freezes exceedingly well -- we used to make gallons in September with "seconds" heirloom tomatoes and enjoy a taste of summer from the freezer in February!

Nice pic, BTW, even if it's not yours.

7:05 PM  

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