It took me a while to realize that the folks at Hoboken Farms were just funning us when they named their company. No, there are no farms in Hoboken (the name is a nod to owner Brad Finkel’s home town), but there’s plenty of tasty goodness in these sauces, which are carried in some Whole Foods, ShopRite, and Kings (and are sold online). You might also find them in some of the better independent markets and their website further mentions Bed Bath & Beyond (go figure). The Wall Street Journal even deemed the Big Red marinara their top pick of jarred sauces.
When a company invites me to sample their products, I like to check them out online first, especially as to ingredients and nutrition, before giving them the go ahead to ship anything to me. They may be providing free product, but my opinions will be honest, and if I see any red flags (too many processed ingredients or too much salt, for instance), I’ll just tell them not to bother because it’ll only be a lose-lose in the end.
In this case, I learned about a company that has been participating in community farmers markets since 1992. They are a staple in the northern part of the state and in New York, and are now marketing their pasta sauces to grocers all over. A little background information from their website:
“Hoboken Farms operates in 30 weekly farmers markets across New Jersey and New York. Since 1992 the company has offered an expertly curated selection of locally baked artisan breads, fresh mozzarella cheese, pasta and meats. Their Big Red Marinara Sauce is sold at Whole Foods Market, Bed Bath and Beyond, a small select group of independent retail shops, and was name Best Marinara Sauce in the country by the Wall Street Journal.”
These sauces are rich with olive oil (fine by me), and have what I consider a moderate amount of salt, compared to some of the national brands that are much higher per 1/2 cup serving. They have no added sugar at all, yet are plenty sweet thanks to their using tomatoes in season – from New Jersey as much as possible, otherwise from California.
I like to think I held out on buying jarred tomato sauce longer than many home cooks. Every now and then I’d try a brand someone recommended, but I was invariably disappointed. There were too many ingredients fighting for attention. Then I noticed a brand or two that had very few ingredients and tried those. Better. Then I learned to look for whole tomatoes as the first ingredient. Even better. So Hoboken Farms gets it right, the original Big Red has whole tomatoes, olive oil, and fresh onion, garlic, and spices. The Big Basil has extra helpings of basil, and the Vodka also has cheese and, of course, vodka.
The original Big Red and the Big Basil are loaded with chunks of juicy tomato, and I have to say, I love their fresh, bright flavors. First I tried the Big Red with penne, very simple, with a patty of mild Italian sausage on the side. Fantastic.
I didn’t really notice a pronounced basil flavor in the Big Basil, but I did mix that one with bell peppers and onions to make an Italian sausage sandwich. I had that one night in a torpedo roll, and heated the leftovers another night with rigatoni pasta rather than a roll. It was quite good, and, just like Big Red, should lend itself to all sorts of preparations.
Next up was the Big Vodka sauce. I’ve never jumped on the vodka sauce bandwagon, and don’t understand why it exists at all in supposedly Italian restaurants. I think of it as characteristic of the same diners who like brandy cream sauce on everything (mostly female?), which to me is not Italian at all. But, really, it just tastes like tomato sauce with a glug of cream (I don’t taste alcohol), and that can’t be all bad, right? So I chose Portobello mushroom ravioli from Trader Joe’s to go with that, since mushrooms like cream, and it really was a good pairing. (I noticed the higher sodium content in the vodka sauce, but it didn’t detract.)
Frankly, any one of these sauces are what I call “spoon worthy,” (hat tip to Elaine in “Seinfeld”), meaning it’s hard to resist eating them with a spoon right out of the jar. In the next couple of days, I will use up some leftover Big Red and Big Vodka sauce in my favorite Italian comfort food dinner, eggs poached in tomato sauce. I could even see thinning the sauces with a little stock to make a soup. I can just taste a garlicky anchovy crouton floating in that Big Vodka!
I received two jars of each sauce and gave one of the Big Vodka sauces to a friend who chose that from the three. But she left on a trip before she had the time to try it, so I’m wondering if I should let myself into her house while she’s gone to steal it back. (Kidding!!) But I will say that the other two jars I still have are going right into my cupboard for my next sauce “emergency.” It’s like, as my father would say, money in the bank. Not sharing!