The other night, I was having trouble falling asleep. Hungry and dissatisfied with Meals #1 and #2, I starting fantasizing about how to load Meal #3 with flavour. I wanted a mother lode of savoury goodness which would leave me replete, my craving for umami finally satisfied.
Inspired by the ground veal thawing in our fridge, the delicious meal I had at Lula Café in Chicago, and the [Italian?] dish ‘eggs in purgatory’, I came up with this:
The main components were veal, tomatoes, spinach and egg. We bought the veal and tomatoes before the Challenge started. I don’t remember how much the tomatoes cost (but they’re expensive, so I promise I’ll try to have leftover tomatoes at the end of the Challenge to balance this cheating), but the veal cost $3.99 (manager’s special, baby), leaving us with $282.17 in our Challenge budget.
This one took a bit more time (and a lot more electricity, because it involved the oven) than the other meals, but it’s still pretty simple (not like the kind of stuff Mario Batali or Ina Garten would have you do).
- Thaw frozen chopped spinach in the microwave (or use fresh watercress, I think that would taste fantastic too).
- Brown veal, seasoning with salt, pepper and soy sauce.
- Remove meat and make tomato sauce in the same cooking vessel, do not clean. (Details on tomato sauce to follow).
- Combine spinach and veal with tomato sauce, mix it all up and pour into baking dish.
- Make beds for however many eggs you can fit (we did four), crack eggs into beds, sprinkle salt on top.
- Pop into oven (we did 350°F) until eggs are cooked to taste (about 10-15 min for us, yolks still liquid in the center but solid around the edges).
So was it as good as I dreamed, when I was hungry and irritated that night? No, but it was pretty darn good. One of my favourite parts of the dish was the texture. Instead of being firm and solid like a meatloaf, it was soft and tender, falling apart easily.
You can make tomato sauce however you want; we learned our approach from the great maestros Alton Brown and Jamie Oliver. You can use canned tomatoes or fresh, but for this dish I just really wanted fresh ones. The problem with fresh tomatoes is the huge amounts of water tomatoes contain, so I spent quite a bit of effort trying to get rid of that liquid. Here’s how I did it this time:
- Dice fresh Roma tomatoes (any fresh tomato will do, but Roma have relatively low water content, so I really prefer them for cooking).
- Sauté diced onion and garlic (actually I use homemade garlic paste, but more on that in a later post) over medium heat in EVOO (or whatever).
- When you feel the onion and garlic are ready (soft, translucent, smells good, perhaps caramelizing depending on how patient you are), turn the heat up to high. Make sure to continuously and vigorously move around the ingredients, otherwise they’ll burn.
- When everything is spitting hot, dump in the diced tomatoes fast as you can (you want to hear a huge whoosh of steam) and toss it around until everything’s well mixed.
- Season with salt, pepper, cardamom (just a tap) and balsamic vinegar (use the good kind … we made the mistake of using the cheapest kind before and it left a terrible sour taste in all of our tomato sauce, whereas the good stuff leaves a wonderful sweet taste).
- At this point you’ll notice that that tomato pieces are already starting to look cooked (ah, the wonders of high heat). Cover briefly to allow some cooking by steaming.
- Don’t walk away, because it’s still on high heat, and you don’t want it to burn. So after just a minute or so (or whatever your internal clock tells you), go back to stirring vigorously, allowing the steam to evaporate and the tomatoes to turn into a kind of chunky sauce.
- It’s done when you think it’s done. The tomatoes are going to look gorgeous, soft and melting, and the liquid level will be where you want it. I probably let too much liquid evaporate, honestly.
I put a lot more love into this tomato sauce than I typically do, and it was totally worth it. I have to say, I’m a pretty big fan of this high heat method; it’s fast and produces beautiful results (but is definitely a labour of love, too).