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A Sit-Down with Johnny Sack

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 20 February 2011 at 12:39
This thread chronicles my attempt at Andy's house favourite: the spaghetti sauce of Vincent Curatola, who played John "Johnny Sack" Sacrimoni on The Sopranos.
 
Some time ago, my wife bought me the box-DVD set of the first season of the Sopranos, which, in spite of its cornucopia of foul language, exploitation of women as sex objects and casual violence, is in my opinion one of the finest adult drama-series a person could watch. One thing I can say is that all cast members are very talented actors who play their parts nearly to perfection and, beneath the seemingly-shallow plot lines, there is a lot of truly insightful writing, character development and story-telling.
 
Because she is not a fan of the show, I put the set away to watch at a later date, and I regret that it had been forgotten for a couple of years. Finally, over the past couple of weekends, I was able to watch it and catch a few things I hadn't seen before as well as re-acquaint myself with the cast of characters. I'll be ordering Season Two as soon as I can!
 
Anyway, you can click here for Andy's rendition of this wonderful recipe, and click here for Mr. Curatola's original version. Mine didn't come out looking nearly as nice as Andy's, and I did have some trouble with photography - but it sure tasted great and I wouldn't hesitate to make this again in a heartbeat. In fact, I think it could easily become a "company night" dinner recipe, both for it's outstanding flavour and colour, but also for its interesting back story.
 
When the time came to prepare this, I was primed and ready. Here is the recipe I used, which is a slight twist on Andy's slight variation on a doubling of Curatola's recipe.
 
4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 chopped onion (this was my variation)
6 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
2 - 28-oz cans of imported Italian plum tomatoes
1 small tin of anchovy filets packed in oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 cup Marsala wine
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 lb or more of Italian sausage or meatballs or a combination of the two (I used ground beef)
1 lb spaghetti
Grated Romano cheese
 
Here are the goods:
 
 
Some ingredient substitutions were necessary due to the season (dried herbs rather than fresh) and availablity. Having no decent Marsala available, I chose to use carlo rossi's paisano wine for this, and was not disappointed. I also regret that I had no Italian plum tomatoes available, because i really think this recipe would have been better with them. Finally, I substituted brown sugar for white (strangely, we had no white sugar in the house at the time) and added one other variation in the form of a chopped onion. Not pictured is the grated parmesan/romano/asiago cheese blend that i used rather than straight romano.
 
Speaking of onions, my first step in the creation of this sauce was to chop one up:
 
 
Next, I took some garlic cloves:
 
 
And gave them a a good dicing:
 
 
One thing I didn't do, but should have, is crush the garlic cloves with the flat of the knife before slicing, dicing and chopping them. To me, crushing the cloves does wonders for imparting their flavour into the dish, and aids in "melting" the chopped bits into whatever you are cooking.
 
As you can see with the onion and garlic, I do not get too worried about getting every piece uniform in size when I am chopping, dicing, mincing etc. My feeling is that most are average, and then there are a few oversized pieces that will stand out for their goodness and a few undersized pieces that melt into the sauce. Personally, I am suspicious whenever something "home-made" is all EXACTLY the same size - aren't you?Wink Basically, for a chunkier sauce, chop these items on the large side, and for a smoother sauce, chop them as finely as possible.
 
Next, I mashed the anchovy fillets with a fork in their oil until they kinda-sorta reminded me of canned cat food:
 
 
Up until I made this recipe, the beautiful Mrs. Tas held the belief that there was no excuse, culinary or otherwise, for the existence of anchovies. My plan was to get them into the sauce and hide the can and box deep in the trash can - and she would never be the wiser, except for the rich, deep flavour and character they imparted into the final product. Like most people who have actually gotten to know the humble anchovy, I have found that, while it takes a particular palate to enjoy them "straight-up" on their own, anchovies can add so much depth and richness when paired with many italian flavours, particulary (in my experience) tomatoes, olives and Italian meats and cheeses.
 
I then opened the cans of diced tomatoes that I chose for this recipe:
 
 
There is no such thing as canned plum Italian tomatoes in my area, so I chose Hunts, which has a great reputation in the canned-tomato world, a niche where you indeed get what you pay for. I decided to try different sizes and varieties, including some with a boost of basilico, aglio e origano.
 
I poured the tomatoes into a container so they would be ready when I needed them. In this picture below, which didn't turn out very well, you can see the bits and pieces of the herbs:
 
 
One constant theme in my cooking this dish was my trouble in photographing the tomatoes, whether out of the can, in the sauce or anywhere else. For some reason, very few of my photos with tomatoes turned out well and most were washed out by the flash. A few, however, did manage to come out right, and the rich, deep red character of these excellent tomatoes was shown to perfection.
 
Mise en place ready, I began by sautéing the onion in the olive oil, adding the garlic during the last minute or so in order to keep it from scorching and turning bitter:
 
 
This looks like a lot of oil (due to a mistake at the store, I ended up getting "regular" olive oil rather than extra virgin, but it was all good), but by the time the sauce was finished, it seemed to be just about right. One could, i suppose, reduce the amount of oil if they prefer; I heard or read somewhere that with italian cooking, you want just enough olive oil to cover the bottm of the pan well, and that seems like a good guideline.
 
[NOTE] I have altered the recipe above to reflect a reduced amount of olive oil. After making this a few more times, I think it is safe to say that one can definitely cut the olive oil in half, if they choose. it looks like doubling the oil along with the rest of the ingredients is in fact unnecessary - just be sure to cover the bottom of the pan well!
 
I then added the tomatoes and began crushing them with my wooden spoon, a step that continued throughout the cooking process as the tomatoes cooked down:
 
 
Note - a potato masher works very well for this purpose, but I didn't have one in the house at the time. Be careful when using one if your cooking vessel has a non-stick coating or seasoning.
 
I added the anchovies, sugar, and salt and pepper:
 
 
Then brought the lovely-looking and smelling mixture to a boil, after which I reduced the heat to just above low for a nice, long simmer:
 
 
After around 45 minutes, when it reached a stage that looked about right, I added the paisano wine to the sauce:
 
 
And, since they were dried herbs, I added the basil and oregano as well:
 
 
Had they been fresh herbs, I would have waited until very near the end in order to get the freshest flavour punch from them, but since they were dried, I added them at this time to allow them to work their way in between the cracks where the flavour of the sauce is concerned.
 
I continued to simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally and mashing the diced tomatoes as often as I  could:
 
 
I think that during their processing at the canning factory, the diced tomatoes "set up" somehow, which allowed them to resist a lot of the mashing and retain their shape more than I wanted. A potato masher would have helped this, but next time I make this sauce, I will use crushed tomatoes if I cannot find Italian plum tomatoes.
 
Finally, after much simmering and mashing, the sauce had reduced to a wonderful, rich gravy, and in fact might have been a little TOO thick:
 
 
But no worries, since we do like thick, reduced, chunky sauces in this house!
 
At this point, as Andy says, the sauce is done and ready to serve, but we do things differently here in Montana, so here's what we did.
 
I browned some good, lean, local burger in a separate pan and added it to the sauce:
 
 
Being a family of six, I used two pounds of burger, which was probably a little much, but hey buddy, you're in Montana and it is beef country. Having said that, I would have loved to try this with homemade meatballs or Italian sausage, and will try to do so when I make this again.
 
Then, after some simmering and melding of flavours, my wife arrived home from work just as the pasta was a perfect al dente. One smart-alec son of mine exclaimed before she could even get her coat off: "Maww-awwm! Dad put anchovies in the spaghetti sauce!" (anyone who has lived in a house with multiple children, rather as a sibling or as a parent, knows exactly the tone I am referring to here), so there was an awkward moment there where she gave me the look, but luckily she was too hungry to complain after working a 9-hour shift, and took the plate.
 
I served this beautiful sauce up on whole wheat spaghetti with the grated italian cheese blend:
 
 
And we enjoyed a fantastic Italian meal.
 
There are not enough superlatives to describe this wonderful sauce, even though I used many "substandard" ingredients. I can only imagine how much better it would have been with "the right stuff." The base of this sauce, the tomatoes, came through in rich and flavourful fashion, nearly bursting in the mouth and highlighted by every other ingredient. I was very satisfied with this sauce and can't wait to make it again.
 
Everyone in the family enjoyed this sauce and found it to really be good; there were absolutely no leftovers, but I was disappointed to hear one of my boys proclaim that it would have been a lot less work to use sauce from a jar. This, of course, was the same son who "tattled" on me with the anchovies; being 16, I guess he feels it his duty in the world to be the sounding board for chaos. But he's a good kid and a very good student, so we do give him some leeway.
 
As for the beautiful Mrs. Tas, she must have become an anchovy convert, at least in situations (such as this sauce) where the flavours of the anchovies blend in and enhance their fellow ingredients ~
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 February 2011 at 13:04
What an absolutely beautifully written narrative! I was smiling the whole time and I certainly know "that tone" from your son.
 
Your pictures are outstanding and you must be taking advice somewhere or reading the camera's manual on "tips and techniques" Smile cause they are wonderful. Really liked that close up of the garlic cloves.
 
Now you really have made me want to make this spaghetti sauce real bad, and I just made 6 quarts and canned them all of my home-recipe one. This one looks and sounds delicoius and much different than mine, but it is just as beautiful a plated meal! Nothing better than that grated cheese on top for that delectable finishing touch. Another home run for you, Ron, very very nicely done! Clap
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 February 2011 at 13:29
hey, john - thanks for the kind words. i do like some of those pix (including the garlic cloves), but others just didn't work right.
 
i strongly recommend that you give this sauce a try the next time you and mrs. rivet have spaghetti. it works perfectly for a meal and can be prepared right during that day and served fresh - a little variety can be a nice change from what you're used to, even when the "normal" itself is very good!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 February 2011 at 13:38
Agreed 100% I have got to try this recipe. Everything is tasty and I will just use beef instead of pork sausage for the individual preference. No worries here on the anchovies, and I have some marsala left over here somewhere......heck we might just have to start a whole new section called "Johnny Sacks Spaghetti"!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Boilermaker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 February 2011 at 17:46
Ron,

Looks wonderful!  Well done.  Tasty stuff, isn't it?

My experience with the domestic tomatoes is the same as yours.  As an experiment, after I posted the original thread, I made "Johnny Sack's" from Hunts canned tomatoes and while they get high marks for flavor they are very hard and I found them almost impossible to crush with a fork as the recipe requires.  I ended up getting out my blending wand in desperation.  I wonder if they are not very ripe when picked is why they are so hard?

I'm going to send you some cans of imported Italian plum tomatoes and a bottle of Marsala wine this week so you can make it again. 

Cheers.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 February 2011 at 03:22
I made this myself a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I'm sure your Mrs. could not even taste the anchovies Ron...perhaps a bit of their saltiness is all, but they form a wonderful base for the sauce.
Go ahead...play with your food!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 February 2011 at 10:37
hey, andy - i just caught your post and wanted to sincerely thank you for your generous gift. when i receive the stuff, i will post some pictures up showing how it went!
 
dave - i think she never would have known about the anchovies if billy wouldn't have told her. as it was, she was leery until she tried it and i do beleive she was impressed. the anchovy flavour is still there, but it becomes part of the whole and really, really fits in well while boosting the otehr flavours. it's a perfect way to make a great sauce into an incredible sauce ~
 
john - i'll be looking forward to seeing your go at this sauce! you have much moe experience with sauces than i do, so i know it will turn out very well when you make it ~
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 March 2011 at 13:35
for supper tonight, i am making this sauce again, including meaballs from ground beef, following andy's recipe for italian sausage. i used the same amounts of seasonings in the sausage recipe, but with two lbs. of nice, lean local burger from our own cattle, adding 2 eggs and half-cup each of italian bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. looking back, the amounts in the "sausage" measurements look to be be just right, but i probably could have gotten by with only 1 egg and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs and parmesan. but it's all good and i have a feeling it's going to turn our great! still not having any marsala, i used a cabernet sauvignon from oak leaf vineyards.
 
i also used crushed tomatoes rather than diced. the sauce is only in the simmering stage right now, but already i see a HUGE improvement in the consistency of the sauce, compared with when i made it with diced tomatoes. if a person has no access to actual italian plum tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, it looks like crushed is the way to go! the tomatoes are wal-mart brand and i must confess that i am pretty impressed with the tomatoey-ness that they have.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 December 2011 at 14:42
during a recent trip to great falls beofre thanksgiving, i spotted in the tomato aisle at wal-mart something i have been wanting to see for a few years now:
 
 
finally! a chance to try these tomatoes i have heard so much about!
 
i snatched up half a dozen cans, not bothering to tell the wonderful mrs. tas how much they cost, and safely delivered them home.
 
this past weekend, i was able to try them with this spaghetti sauce and was absolutely knocked flat-out at how wonderful it tasted and how rich the consistency of the sauce was when compared to my earlier attempts. these tomatoes really, really brought a wonderful sauce into orbit ~ definitely worth the price in my mind (3.88$ per 28-oz can).
 
as noted in above posts, there are some substitutes that are better than others, but "the real thing," if you can work it, is the way to go!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 December 2011 at 03:19
Cento is a very popular brand out here on the East coast Ron...I use their products often. They make a sugarless tomato sauce as well...only company I've seen that does that. It's tough to find, but a very tasty sauce.
Go ahead...play with your food!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 December 2011 at 08:47
i gotta say, dave ~ these tomatoes were wonderful ~ the only thing better than i can imagine would be growing my own and using them, when i intend to try again next year....
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Boilermaker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 December 2011 at 09:37
In my experience the Italian tomatoes make a real difference in this dish.  Glad you were able to find them.Thumbs Up
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Daikon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 December 2011 at 01:42
Resurrecting a bit from the old post: "due to a mistake at the store, I ended up getting 'regular' olive oil rather than extra virgin, but it was all good."

Mistake or no, you did the right thing.  First, most of the "extra virgin" olive oil that you get from the grocery store just isn't.  You may have caught the recent NPR piece "exposing" what many have known for a long time -- http://www.npr.org/2011/12/12/143154180/losing-virginity-olive-oils-scandalous-industry .  Second, even if you had actually managed to get real extra virgin olive oil, you simply wouldn't want to use it to saute onions and garlic.  Really good olive oil contains delicate fragrant compounds that are sensitive to damage by light, oxygen, and heat.  Besides carefully storing such oil and using it as soon as possible before it loses its quality (or even goes rancid, as much of the olive oil sold and used in the U.S. actually is), you'd never want to use it in any high-heat preparation.  For that, a cheaper olive oil or olive oil blend will give you the same results at much less cost.  Many, many recipes specify extra virgin olive oil when they should not.  To me, that raises caution flags about the quality of the recipe and the expertise of the recipe's author -- not that every recipe that contains a miscall for extra virgin olive oil is bad, but... proceed with caution.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 December 2011 at 09:13
hey, andy - good to see that you're still kickin'! yep, i did notice a huge difference. "wal-mart" or hunts tomatoes were very good, once i learned to use whole tomatoes or tomatoe puree (for some reason, diced tomatoes, as shown in the pictures above, just didn't provide the right texture at all). but using the "real thing" seemed, to me, to take it to a whole other level. i can't thank you enough for sharing this recipe, which is very basic and easy, yet packs a lot of great things.
 
daikon - i am in complete agreement with you. the "store-brand" extra virgin olive oil that is available to me is just as you say - not true "extra virgin olive oil." it's good for my purpose, and i use it out of pure habit, finding it to be versatile for cooking or for dressings etc.; but if i were to get some of the real, true stuff, it absolutely wouldn't be used for cooking. one of these days i would certainly like to get a small quantity for dressings and so forth, and will see about doing so next year, now that i may have found a source in great falls. any tips that might be helpful for storage, such as refrigeration?
 
i'm also in agreement about the recipes that specify extra virgin olive oil; to simply say "olive oil" would be sufficient, but i am thinking it's become a "national habit" to follow rachael ray's lead, unfortunately. as much as i am in live with giada, i am afraid she might also be a bit of a culprit where this is concerned.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 September 2012 at 15:02
andy - i should mention another wonderful use for this sauce - read on! 
 
a couple of weekends ago, i made this sauce, not knowing what i'd do with it when i was done, but wanting to make sauce nonetheless, so that i would have it on hand. i should have taken pictures, because it was the best sauce i've yet made  (the finely-chopped onion is a great addition!), but it didn't occur to me to get the camera out this time. i credit my success to the cento tomatoes and being very careful with preparation, rather than any skill of mine - i am sure that the tramontina enameled cast iron dutch oven was also a huge help - things just plain seem to taste BETTER when they are cooked it there.....
 
anyway, i had just put the sauce to a very low, slow simmer while i figured out what to do with it; this was right about the same time the beautiful mrs. tas was getting home from work, which still left about 3 or 4 hours until suppertime. she started firing up the old facebook machine to play her games, one of which is "ChefVille," which is a little simulation of running a restaurant. it's pretty cool - you get a little guy running around making all kinds of things: cheeseburgers, pizzas, panini, bruschetta, kebabs, meatball sandwiches......
 
and then it hit me - meatball sandwiches!
 
so, using andy's pork sausage recipe as a basic guide (adding an egg, breadcrumbs and a parmesan blend), i made some all-beef meatballs, baked them in the oven and plunked them into the sauce to simmer for a while. then i bought some sandwich rolls, split them and toasted an italian blend of shredded cheeses on the open faces. then it was 4 meatballs and a healthy smothering of sauce per sandwich, and voila! beautiful stuff!
 
in fact, they were so good, i might try them again here on the next payday weekend - if so, i will take some pix, but in the meantime, if anyone wants to try them, this is the sauce to try them with!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 September 2012 at 03:55
Tas,
 
Thanks so much for posting your wonderful pictorial and sheer reading pleasure background on the recipe.
 
This is a definite try out. Of course, I do agree with Boil Maker, about using Italian products if available. BARILLA makes jar sauces that can work here very well. The one I really enjoy for a quickie Pasta or Doctoring, is the Barilla Basil & Tomato.  
 
I am an anchovy enthusiast big time ... And I agree with Hoser, that with all your other ingedients, and the amount of ground meat and tomatoes, the anchovy profile is very likely to be so so light, that someone not caring for anchovies, would not detect.
 
Of course, I also have enjoyed the anecdote too.
 
Which dry cheese combination do you employ?  Reggiano Parmesano, Gran Padano and Pecorino Romano Lucatelli ? 
 
Looks real phenomenal and would also be wonderful with Italian Meatballs & Sweet & Spicy Sausages which can be served on top or as a side dish.
 
Thanks again for posting this and I shall let u know how it turns out.
 
www.barilla.com ( this is a wonderful website for all aficionados of Italian regional cuisines. )
 
Tongue Marge.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 September 2012 at 10:07
Margi - I think you will really enjoy this sauce. to me, it seems a little different than a lot of sauces I've tried (marinaras, salsas di pomidori, etc.), but it encompasses the best of all of them while still having its own unique taste. As far as I can see, it goes very will with just about anything - pasta, bread meats, vegetables - you name it.
 
To answer your questions: The cheese combination I used was simply a grated blend of parmesan, asiago and romano from Kraft. One of these days I will have access to try parmesan and romano, but until then, this works really well. I haven't yet tried it with salsicce but I can only imagine how good that would be, either on their own on a plate, with pasta or nestled in some fresh bread with some of the sauce.
 
A couple of other notes from my experiences: I had best luck cooking it in something like my enameled cast iron dutch oven (casserole). over time, i use less oil than called for in my first post (i will probably modify my post to call for 4 or 6 tablespoons). I simmered the sauce a LONG time the first time I made it - it was wonderful, thick and full of concentrated flavour, but was probably "too thick" by most standards - but i liked it that way - lol. The San Marzanos did indeed work better than the "American" cans of diced tomatoes, but if for some crazy reason you end up using something other than italian plum/San Marzano tomatoes, I found that crushed tomaotes work better than diced. As Andy said, fresh herbs are best added toward the end.
 
You'll definitely want to refer to his tutorial on this sauce, also, for some great notes:
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 September 2012 at 10:27
Tas,
 
I am definitely going to prepare it one day soon, and shall for sure, refer to the Tutorial and your notes as well. I am sure, this is quite delicious and a change of pace.
 
Asiago is quite a  lovely cheese too.  ( great with red Barlett pears on a cheese platter too )
 
Thanks for your coaching. Appreciate your feedback.
Marge.
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Lupinus View Drop Down
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Joined: 03 November 2012
Location: Upstate, SC
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Lupinus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 November 2012 at 13:29
I use the Cento San Marzanos almost exclusively. They are just so much better then using Hunts or similar. Their regular whole plum tomatoes are decent too, but the San Marzano type are well worth the extra few cents a can.

As to the anchovies, my wife doesn't care much for them. But she will eat them in something like this. Here, they act almost like garlic. They don't so much smack you with their own flavor as they add that background seasoning. Make a batch without and you'll know the difference just as you would without garlic or onion.

If you can find them, and it's a challenge here in SC I can only imagine trying to find them in Montana, salt packed tend to be much better then the ones packed in oil. If you can, give them a soak in milk for a few minutes before using. They have the great anchovies flavor without the...fishyness. 
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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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Joined: 25 January 2010
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 November 2012 at 13:42
yep, after finally being able to try the san marzanos, i rate them as THE choice; i can "make do" with others, but for special occasions the san marzanos are the way to go! Tongue
 
one of these days, i'll definitely have to try the salt-packed anchovies; i'llkeep an eye out for them, but don't everrecall seeing them in any store.
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