Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lavender-infused marinara sauce

Tomato sauces come in a dazzling array of textures and flavors, from creamy, sweet vodka sauce to chunky, spicy, herbaceous salsas. This sauce was inspired by the need for a dipping marinara -- in particular, to go with an amazing Pugliese tomato focaccia I found a while back in Bon Appetit. The sauce highlights the amazing (and, I think, tragically underappreciated) flavor of lavender while still retaining the tangy sweetness we all long for in a dipping marinara.

Lavender-infused marinara sauce
  • 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, mined finely
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/8 c. (2 tbsp.) balsamic vinegar
  • 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried culinary lavender
  • salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add garlic and red pepper flakes (if using), then fry until just beginning to brown. Add balsamic and allow to simmer a bit (to cut down the acidity of the vinegar). Add tomatoes and bring to simmer, then reduce heat. If using caraway seeds, crush in mortar and pestle, then add along with sugar, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer five minutes or more, then add lavender, and simmer an additional five to ten minutes. Serve warm.

A few notes:
  • Don't skimp on the olive oil. Sure, it introduces some fat, but without it this will just taste like hot canned tomatoes. Many of the most delicious (and nutritious!) chemicals in tomatoes are oil-soluble, and hence you need the oil to maximize the deliciousness.
  • The caraway and red pepper flakes are truly optional; the sauce is tasty with or without them, but they substantially change its flavor. Red pepper flakes will introduce a hint of spiciness that many people will find very appealing. Caraway seed has its own distinctive aroma that reminds me of good Italian sausages.
  • Long simmering is good for this sort of sauce, but not good for the lavender. However long you plan to keep it on the stove, don't add the lavender more than about ten minutes before taking it off the heat.

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