I love to cook with booze. No, you don’t understand… I LOVE to cook with booze! It all started with sauce, or pasta sauce, as Americans call it.
I first learned to make sauce from Maria, a friend of my grandmother’s. She was from Italy (I am not sure what region) and came to the States as a young girl. She was a fabulous cook and made everything look so easy. One afternoon, I showed interest in the inner workings of her sauce. She seemed pretty excited and began to show me from start to finish how she made her beloved sauce. I was not yet 21, so when she pulled out a giant bottle of red wine, I got very excited. She told me: “There is no sauce without red wine.” I was so in!
I worked hard throughout my early twenties to replicate her sauce and was told by her a few years after the initial lesson that I had nailed it. I am not sure to this day if she was being nice or if she truly meant it, but everyone would lap it up nonetheless.
Many years later, I dated a guy whose mother hailed from Bologna, Italy. She and I bonded quickly over food. She was incredible, a chef quality cook. She had a really high-end approach to very rustic cuisine back when that wasn’t a ‘thing.’ I loved being in the kitchen with her and by then I could hold my own. Almost every Italian dish I cook today, I have her to thank. Thank you, Angela!!!
When I finally made it to Italy a few years later, I quickly recognized firsthand the differences between the regions when it came to sauce. One very important difference? The booze. I was taught to use red wine, port wine, and sherry, each adding a very important and complex flavor profile to the sauce. And with the difference in booze, there followed the difference in the type of tomatoes and how they were prepared prior to the sauce. Were they sun dried? Were they all Roma? Or were they all Caprese an inch away from rotting into dust? The difference in the tomato matched the difference in the booze, which also matched the difference in the viscosity of the sauce.
Is it Marinara, A Puttanesca, A Ragu, or maybe an Arrabbiata? It really all depended on the region and, of course, the region depended on the booze (Yes, I am completely skewing the history and regional appreciation for Italian Pasta Sauce, but it’s my blog and I can do what I want!).
So the next time you begin a recipe, as you are beginning your base for a sauce or soup, be sure to add booze! Replace a small portion of oil or water in the recipe and play! You won’t be disappointed!
Next Up… Sailor’s Vodka Soaked Grilled Cheese