Comfort is a wonderful word and the phase ‘comfort food’ is even better. Lately I’ve been pondering the term and thinking about the foods that soothe and cheer a Southern soul. As sure as this is a personal choice, certainly there are more than a few that land in a Southerner’s top five. May I suggest grits, homemade biscuits, macaroni and cheese (NOT from a box!), squash casserole and here in the Lowcountry most any “one dish meal” made with rice (pilou, red rice, crab rice, etc.).
When I was growing up, all these were simply “supper” – they were not regarded as special as we ate them quite often. Now, something that was regarded as “special”, was a creation of another land – and from the perspective of a child growing up in the 1970’s South this would mean China, Mexico or Italy. Italian was by far the favorite of these at our house and my mother even learned to make lasagna from scratch, complete with Béchamel sauce. Maybe the fact that our backyard garden overflowed with tomatoes every summer had something to do with this.
But besides lasagna and the ubiquitous spaghetti with red sauce, my experiences with “Italian” food came to a halt – at least until I was let loose into the world after high school graduation. Then I discovered many more flavors born of Italian lienage: caprese salad, gnocchi, zuccotto, and the wonders of fresh, homemade pasta. I even bought a hand cranked pasta machine (which is still in use). To me, good Italian cuisine is an intriguing mix of tradition and innovation that provides ‘comfort’ and also continuously offers something new. This is especially true when your plate arrives from the kitchen of a talented local chef … a chef like Amanda Russ of Hilton Head Island’s Pomodori Italian Eatery.
Chef Amanda began her Italian inspired culinary adventure on Hilton Head Island in March of this year, with Pomodori already receiving rave reviews by locals and visitors alike. What’s all the fuss you say? It’s “just Italian”. Well, it’s Chef Amanda’s “Italian”! This means homemade gnocchi and tagliatelle made on the premises. It also means a concentrated menu with variety, but kept small, so each delicious dish you order is custom made and ultra fresh.
Pomodori also offers several specials daily – taking advantage of “what’s best that day at the local seafood and produce markets”, according to Chef Amanda. Italian cuisine is second nature to Chef Amanda as she is of Italian descent and learned the ways of the Sicilian kitchen from her Grandmother. She received her formal training at the Italian Culinary Institute in the region of Calabria… land of Sopressata, caciocavallo silano and abundant seafood hauled in from both the adjacent Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas. If Sicily is considered the “football” of Italy then Calabria is the “toe”.
A mid-westerner by birth, Chef Amanda, was a frequent visitor to Hilton Head Island throughout her childhood, and as it seems to occur quite often to many, she felt the tug of the familiar Lowcountry after culinary school. We are so glad she made her way back – this time as a permanent resident! So while Hilton Head Island is not the island of Sicily, take comfort that a taste of Calabria and modern Italian cuisine is on the table right here at Pomodori Italian Eatery.
Oh, and if you’re thinking about New Year’s Eve on Hilton Head, think Pomodori! Chef Amanda has created a spectacular 4-course menu with champagne toast for just $60 per person. The meal includes eight options per course (Yes, eight options!) with amuse-bouche, salad, entree and dessert. To make a reservation call 843-686-3100.
Happy New Year from the Food Vibe!
Chef Russ’ Delicate Tomato Sauce
Pomodori Italian Eatery
- (4) 28-oz cans of whole peeled San Marzano tomataoes, pureed
- 10 cloves of whole peeled garlic
- 3 carrots, diced small
- 2 red onions, diced medium
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- 2-3 medium sized rinds from parmigiano reggiano cheese
Coat the bottom of a heavy sauce pan with olive oil, enough to fill the bottom about 1/6 inch. (The wider the pan the better, more surface area and less chance of sticking or burning…tall pots are not ideal in this situation…the restaurant uses what’s called a rondo…)
Prop the back of the pan up so that the olive oil all concentrates to the front of the pan and add the cloves of garlic and a 1/2 tsp of kosher salt. On low medium heat, saute the garlic until it is transparent…you don’t want to brown the garlic or it will taste bitter. This will take about 15 minutes but it is every bit worth the time. What you are doing is infusing the olive oil with the flavor of the garlic. Once the garlic is soft and golden, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon. At this point if you whip that garlic with some butter and smear it on a loaf of italian bread you will have the makings of quite possibly the BEST garlic bread EVER!
Remove the prop you made from the back of the pan and allow the pot to sit regularly on the burners. Add the diced onions, carrots and 1 tbs kosher salt and saute over medium heat, careful not to brown the veggies or they will turn bitter. Again, this will take 15-20 minutes.
When the carrots are baby food soft, add the pureed tomatoes and parmigiano rinds and lower the heat to medium low. Allow the sauce to simmer about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring every so often to prevent the cheese rinds from sticking and burning. A good rule of thumb for tomato sauce is when the foam dissipates from the top of the sauce, you’re probably done. I reccommend that you taste your sauce every 20 minutes…it’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the cooking stages of tomato-based sauces.
When it no longer tastes tart or acidic, you’re done. Pull out the cheese rinds and strain through a china cap or a chinois (fancy words for strainers with small holes) Be sure and push the sauce through the strainer with a ladel or a spatula so you don’t waste any of the yumminess. Discard the pith left in the strainer after you’re finished.
VOILA! Delicious, fresh tomato sauce! Use this on anything from pasta to poached eggs!