Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Appreciating Sheila Lukins and Pasta Sauce Raphael

I can’t remember when or how I heard about The Silver Palate Cookbook (Workman Publishing Company, Inc. 1982), but I know that I had it while I was in law school (1981-1984). After reading of Sheila Lukins’ death, I looked at the book and realized that I wanted to cook almost everything. I also wanted to thank her and her partner Julie Russo, for opening the door onto really interesting food that has become deli fare (ratatouille, spinach pesto, salmon mousse, phyllo triangles, etc). We have made progress.

Much of the memorial chat about Lukins has centered on Chicken Marbella and how it changed the world for a generation of cooks. With respect, the life-changing recipe for me was Pasta Sauce Raphael, a spicy tomato-and-artichoke sauce which you can serve hot, cold or at room temperature. It freezes like a dream. If you omit the Romano cheese, it is vegan.

Armed with a tasting spoon the first time I made it, I was about 80% finished when I called my best friends all over the country with a news flash. In my best Bossy Imperative Voice, I said “Drop everything. There is nothing more important for you to do today than to make this sauce. It is fabulous.” I stand by that directive.

The Silver Palate was written before the discovery of cholesterol and the demonization of butter. The original recipe is true to Lukins’ and Russo’s ethic of using the largest possible quantity of oil or butter that could be absorbed by any food group. For this sauce, I recommend cutting the oil from ½ cup to 2 T. While Lukins calls for 1 small dried red pepper finely crushed, the sauce benefits from additional hot pepper. I use ½ tsp of cayenne and at least 1 T of crushed red peppers. Finally, please, please if you don’t have a functioning pepper mill, get one now. I once crushed the 3 T of black peppercorns with an improvised crushing device (perhaps a wine bottle). It was a mistake: the sauce was crunchy.

Pasta Sauce Raphael (adapted from The Silver Palate)

1 # boxed, strained tomatoes or canned petite diced tomatoes
2 6-oz jars marinated artichoke hearts
2 T best quality olive oil (or neutral canola oil, if you prefer)
2 c finely chopped onions
4-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
¼ c dried basil (yes, really)
½ c finely chopped Italian parsley (or 1/4 c dried parsley -- there is no Parsley Police)
1 T crushed dried red pepper
½ tsp cayenne pepper
3 T fresh black pepper, finely ground (not ground to dust)
1 T salt
¼ c grated Romano cheese (omit for vegans)

1. Drain the artichokes and reserve the marinade. Trim any tough artichoke leaves. Roughly chop into small bites, keeping in mind that the onions have been finely diced.

2. Over medium heat in a large saucepan sauté the onions, garlic, basil, parsley, dried red pepper and cayenne for five minutes.

3. Add the ground pepper. Stir for a minute.

4. Add the tomatoes and 1 tsp of the salt. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.

5. Add the artichoke marinade and simmer, stirring often, for 30 minutes.

6. Stir in the artichokes and continue to simmer until the sauce is very thick.

7. Add the Romano cheese. You may need to add some additional salt at this point – taste first.


  • Marinated artichoke hearts: The best jarred artichoke hearts used to come from California. They now come from everywhere, and when they are good, they are very good, and when they are nasty, they re-define the term. Don't even think of using artichokes in a fat-free marinade. Taste the artichokes and the marinade before you add it to your sauce.
  • If you love mushrooms... Chop fine one pound of mushrooms and make duxelles, which is the immensely pleasurable task of cooking the mushrooms (and shallots if you insist) slowly in butter until they resemble well-cooked and dry finely ground beef. Duxelles taste like the concentrated essence of mushrooms. If you can resist eating this treasure from the pan with a spoon, add them with the artichokes in step 6. NOTE: Ignore any duxelles recipe that says that this can be made in under 30 minutes. The authors are fooling themselves -- don't let them fool you.

No comments: