I Always Laughed at My Grandma's Favorite Ingredient, But Now I Love It

It's always in my pantry.

<p>Mladen Zivkovic/Getty Images</p>

Mladen Zivkovic/Getty Images

I'm going to be honest—I did not look forward to dining at Grandma’s house. Many other family members held our matriarch as a beacon of culinary grace, but even as a small child, I dreaded her meals. At her Connecticut beach house, she always served acceptable fruit salad and dinners finished with sometimes painfully tart lemon chiffon pies, but what led up to it was what really made me cringe.

Her favorite meal to serve me and my brothers was elbow noodles with a can of cool Del Monte tomato sauce poured over it. The sauce itself was essentially flavorless, with a hint of the metal that enclosed it. And without heating it up, all it did was make the pasta colder and wetter than it was before.

Practically everything that my grandmother made featured cans of her favorite sauce. For special occasions, braised brisket was usually on the menu. This, too, was centered on the red stuff, with some caramelized onions thrown in for good measure. Grandma’s cooking was an anti-inspiration to me and my oldest brother, who eventually became a chef. For decades, I wouldn’t even buy a canned tomato product, relying purely on the fresh stuff.

Then I started making pizza. I did my research and even talked to my favorite local pizzaioli about their favorite ingredients. And everyone used cans of crushed tomatoes, mostly Cento brand. I realized that, though the oversized cans of vine-ripened fruits claim to be packed immediately upon picking to preserve their fresh flavor, in spirit, they aren’t such a big departure from Grandma’s beloved Del Monte sauce made of tomato paste and water.

The biggest difference? Me. Even when I put plain crushed tomatoes on my 72-hour-fermented pizza crusts, I am careful to season them sufficiently. This helps bring out the tangy and sweet flavors of the tomatoes. But for everything else, there are many more additions. I crush nearly half a head of garlic and chop home-grown basil and oregano into my pasta sauce made from crushed tomatoes. And then there is beef brisket.

After my grandma died in 2017, I started braising brisket in a tomato-based sauce as a tribute to her. But my ingredients go beyond caramelized onions. For one thing, after I sear off the fatty hunk of meat, I like to bloom a collection of spices. I’ve used everything from Ethiopian berbere to Indian tandoori masala. I often deglaze the pan with a little wine before I add the tomatoes. The result? A flavor-packed meal of tender beef that has almost nothing to do with my grandmother’s version. But her memory is still in there, applauding my use of her favorite ingredient.

Read the original article on All Recipes.