Crazy business! Mike Isabella’s pepperoni sauce, revealed


(By Olga Berman / Mango & Tomato )

Memories of the “Top Chef All-Stars” finale are fading, yet the buzz about cheftestant Mike Isabella’s pepperoni sauce still hangs in the Internet air.

Our D.C. finalist served it with braised pork shoulder, roasted turnips and cabbage. The sauce set judge Gail Simmons a’swooning, calling it “crazy business!” At the mere mention of its name, “Top Chef” Twitterverse fans are moved to type Tarzan-style: Want. Now.

But Isabella did not give Bravo the recipe to post on its Web site. “They got enough out of me,” he grins. It’s not that he wasn’t willing to share with the public; after all, he says, “it’s not a state secret. It’s food.”

He hadn’t originally planned on making the sauce at Graffiato, still on schedule to open in May. Now, he says, “you can bet it will be on the menu.”

After the show, he explained how to make it, sort of. As with all great sauces, though, details matter.

So here they are. The sauce is salty and spicy; you don’t need a lot of it. Isabella suggests serving it alongside chicken. I could see adding it, like a concentrate, to boost the flavor of your favorite tomato sauce for pasta; with roasted vegetables; for dipping with warm focaccia. Or eating out of the jar, with a spoon.

Pepperoni Sauce Graffiato

Makes 4 1/2 cups to 4 3/4 cups

This sauce may turn out to be a bit more textured, depending on how you puree it. Still tastes just as good.

MAKE AHEAD: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, cut into small dice

5 medium cloves garlic, cut into very thin slices

1 pound pepperoni, cut into thin slices

1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted (see NOTE)

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

8 to 12 ounces canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 fresh bay leaf

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, until the oil shimmers.

Add the onion and garlic; cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are golden and fragrant.

Stir in the pepperoni; cook for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and evenly coated, then add the toasted fennel seed and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute, stirring.

Add the tomatoes and their juices (to taste), the broth and the bay leaf; stir to incorporate. Once the mixture starts to bubble at the edges, cover and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The pepperoni slices will be soft, with a deeper color. Remove from the heat.

Working in batches as needed, transfer to a food processor or a high-powered blender (including the bay leaf). Puree until smooth. The sauce is ready to use. Or cool, cover and refrigerate or freeze.

NOTE: Toast the fennel seed in a small dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the skillet often to keep the seeds from burning. They will become fragrant and slightly darker in color.

Bonnie S. Benwick has the job most envied among cocktail-party conversations. If they only knew ... Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes: washingtonpost.com/recipes.

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