Tag Archives: Italian food

San Marzano & More Pasta Sauce

Balsamic vinegar & a little brown sugar set off summer sauce

Canned and bottled San Marzano tomatoes are available in many versions. This is but one of several brands.
Canned and bottled San Marzano tomatoes are available in many versions. This is but one of several brands.

Pasta was on the docket when vegetarian friends were coming for dinner. I vacillated between cheese tortellini from the freezer and farmers’ market organic fettuccine that I would make with some kind of tomato sauce — either fresh tomatoes and herbs from the garden, or a sauce based on a canned San Marzanos.

We  never have enough fresh tomatoes ripening at the same time for a decent amount of sauce, so supplemental San Marzanos were called for. San Marzano tomatoes, like Roma tomatoes, are a type of plum tomatoes. I often by fresh Romas in the market, but when it comes to canned tomatoes, I pay extra for San Marzanos. The flesh is thicker and they have fewer seeds than other varieties. They are grown in volcanic soil around Mt. Vesuvius, and their taste is stronger, sweeter and less acidic than Romas. In the end, I decided the tortellini would be heartier, and I combined the two kinds of tomato with inspiration from an online recipe for a tomato and Balsamic sauce. This was my very simple-to-prepare version:

Tomato and Balsamic Vinegar Sauce

1 pinch  brown sugar
1/4 cup  good-quality Balsamic vinegar
1 lb.  fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 16-oz can San Marzano tomatoes
1/4 cup  extra virgin olive oil
2  cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon +/- kosher salt
1 cup  loosely packed fresh basil leaf, thinly sliced
Parmesan cheese, grated on a microplane

In a large bowl, dissolve brown sugar in the Balsamic vinegar. Add the chopped tomatoes canned tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper and salt. Add one pound of cooked, drained pasta to sauce and mix to coat thoroughly, making sure that the pasta and tomato sauce are evenly distributed. Add to the pasta mixture and toss. Top with grated Parmesan and serve.

Happy Hour at Alba

Tuscan restaurant in Boulder offers nightly happy hour with good food at good prices

Yesterday evening was rainy and a bit chilly, just the sort of evening that called for either hunkering down at home or going out someplace warm and welcoming. My husband, Ral, and I increasingly enjoy early-evening happy hours take  a light bite out of the budget and don’t leave us overstuffed. We hadn’t happy houred for a while, so that’s what we decided to do.

When it comes to being warm and welcoming, Alba Restaurant & Wine Bar fills the bill on all counts.  The restaurant is tasteful and pretty, inspired by the owners’ frequent travels to Tuscany. A divider separates the bar from the dining room. Even when almost all tables are filled, there’s a pleasant buzz rather than a din, and that scores big points. I feel compelled to point out that while Alba is a warm, welcoming cocoon in winter, its spacious patio is one of Boulder’s best spots once outdoor dining season is back.

But back to what we wanted on a chilly December evening: Pleasing ambiance? Check. Good food? Check. Very afforadable  happy hour pricing? Available Friday evening? Check. One thing I also really like about Alba is that owners Rick and Susan Stein are almost always there, which means they are paying attention. It might also be the reason that the waitstaff asks over and over how we were liking everything.  One wine, one beer, one salad, one order of arancini and one pizza to share and we were asked six times how the food tasted. Overkill of concern.Basta!  

 I ordered a glass of  Canaletto Montepulciano d’Abruozzo 2007 from the town of Montepulciano in southern Tuscany and my husband had a bottle of Moretti La Rossa, a big-foam, dark Italian beer (bottle shown below with bread). The “wine bar” part of the name means that even a happy hour-priced wine is good.

Good bread with herbed ricotta in olive oil is even served at happy hour -- and even with a pizza order.
The simple presentation arancini, crisp-fired orbs of risotto with smoked mozzarella, don't hint at how good they really taste.
Lightly dressed green salad with crisp-fried onions, a perfect counterpoint to arancini and pizza.
Pzza Margherita made with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and strips of fresh basil.

 Price check: At happy hour (nightly except Sunday until 6:30 p.m.), beer, $3; wines and apperitivi, $4; mixed drinks, $5; small bites, $4; pizza, $9.

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