Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How to Make Tomato Sauce

As y'all know, I am of Italian descent and a fairly good cook (much to my gf's delight).  Last night, I was asked if I would ever use jarred or canned tomato sauce - actually it was Prego, but the thought is the same - and I answered, "never."  The reason is fairly simple - basic tomato sauce is ridiculously easy to make, and its cheaper and better than the jarred stuff.

Now, before I give you the details, let me be clear that this is basic tomato sauce - a quick cooked sauce.  This is not "sauce" - the long cooked tomato sauce we all know and love.  That kind of sauce you can't get out of a jar, and takes forever to make.  This recipe (and its really more a technique than a recipe) is for the sauce making while cooking your pasta.  So here goes.

Step 1: Put a gallon of salted water in a pot, and turn the heat to high.  Cover.

Step 2 (optional): If you want to make a tomato sauce with zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, now would be the time to saute them until golden brown and remove.  If not, go to step three.

Step 3: In a flat bottomed wok or a saucier (and I'm guessing we all have the flat bottomed woks), put 2-3 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, 2-3 cloves of garlic (sliced, smashed or whole, your call), a pinch of red pepper flakes, a pinch of dried oregano and a pinch of salt in the pan.  Turn the heat on medium.

OPTIONS - if you undertake step three, you are making a basic tomato sauce.  For an amatricana sauce, replace the garlic with a 1/2 of a small onion diced, and 2 strips of bacon, diced.  For puttanesca, throw in some anchovy paste, capers and Gaeta or kalamata olives in addition to the garlic. 

Step 4: As soon as the garlic begins to color (we want VERY little color on the garlic), add in 1/2 a can, or 14 oz. of crushed tomatoes.  If you want to get all fancy, buy the whole San Marzano tomatoes, crush them by hand in a bowl, and then add them.  Really your call.  Also, add about a 1/2 cup of white wine (helps wake up the tomato flavors). 

Step 5 (optional): If you want to add a bit more vegetation, here's your chance.  I typically add about a handful of chopped frozen spinach. 

Step 6: Turn down the heat so that the sauce is simmering.

Step 7: When the water starts to boil, add your pasta (I'd go with around 3/4 of a pound). Stir the pasta to make sure it doesn't stick.

Step 8: Taste your sauce.  If its kinda bland, add some salt.  If its too acidic, add either a bit of sugar or (BETTER) a teaspoon of honey.

Step 9: When the pasta is finished cooking, remove from the pot, and drain.  Put the drained pasta into the wok with the sauce.  Turn up the heat to high.

Step 10: Stir the pasta and the sauce so that the pasta is coated with the sauce.  Turn off the heat. Add your finishing touches - I like romano cheese, a bit of black pepper and some olive oil.  If you have basil, now is the time to add it.

And really, that's it.  Ten steps, two of which are optional.  From this basic recipe, I can make basic tomato sauce, puttanesca sauce, amatricana sauce, pasta alla Norma, pasta alla Caruso, and probably a couple of other sauces. 

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