It all starts, of course, with the humble tomato. This pictures is taken from a website that talks about San Marzano tomatoes (as well as the health benefits of tomatoes in general, so be sure to check it out HERE). San Marzano's have a reputation among many cooks (and Italians alike) as being the best tomato for a pasta sauce. And though I do buy them when I happen to be in a speciality shop, I'm not going to tell you that it's a necessity for good sauce (not to mention I can almost guarantee that the stuff in those jars we are trying desperately to steer away from do not contain one single San Marzano tomato). But, you do need tomatoes, of some sort or another. Most common for me is a regular old tin of whole tomatoes. I happen to like a smooth sauce, so I give the contents a quick whirl in the food processor before I use them, but mashing them with a fork or the back of spoon for a more textured sauce also works well. I've also been known to use vine-ripened tomatoes (when in season) for my sauces. If that's what you choose as your base, it's a good idea to blanch them, and then remove the skin. If you don't even want to go to that amount of trouble, but still like the idea of fresh tomatoes, try cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes. They'll pop and release their juices, but the skin won't be as much of an issue. Basically, choose whatever kind of tomatoes are easily available to you and require the least amount of effort!
So, the recipes:
1. Simply Delicious
This is as simple as it gets, but it will blow you away at how tasty it is!
2 tbsp good quality olive oil
2 gloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 can (28oz) tomatoes (with their juice)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook gently until garlic just begins to brown. Add tomatoes. Allow to simmer for about 15 minutes just until the sauce starts to thicken slightly. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Add-Ins: I use this recipe quite often as a base for a pesto/tomato sauce. After the sauce has simmered, I add in about a cup of pesto. Alternately, you could simply add a cup of fresh basil for fresher flavour.
Serving Suggestions: Of course, this sauce is great on it's own with spaghetti, but we find it's a perfect pairing with tortellini and grilled Italian sausages - in fact, I served it during a dinner party once (Andra if you're out there say all those great things you did that night at dinner!!).
2. Tomato Sauce with White Wine
Browning onions and tomato paste give this sauce a little more depth of flavour. It also shows a recipe using vine-ripened tomatoes, but you can always substitute canned...it won't make a difference!
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
4 gloves garlic
1 can tomato paste
3/4 cup white wine
3 vine ripened tomatoes, blanched, and finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
Heat olive in a medium size saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onions are just starting to brown. Add tomato paste, and cook for 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scrapping any brown bits. Add tomatoes and half the basil, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Let cook, uncovered, on medium-low heat for 30 minutes, or until mixture starts to thicken. Add remaining basil as well as salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
Add-Ins: This is the base I use for my red clam sauce. I live in Calgary, so fresh clams are not always at my fingertips so I use canned quite often. Simply add 1 can of clams (with juice) after tomato sauce has simmered, and cook for an additional 10 minutes (just until clams are heated through). Then add the remaining basil and season with S&P.
Serving Suggestions: When making this into a clam sauce, the logical choice is linguine, but this sauce is pretty rich and delicious on it's own. Serve with penne or any kind of short pasta!
3. Veggie Tomato Sauce
Don't tell the kids, but this sauce is packed with carrots and zucchini! They'll never notice though...trust me!
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, grated
2 large cloves garlic, grated
1 zucchini, grated
1 carrot, grated
1 can (28oz) crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
1 tsp Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
Heat olive oil in medium sized saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft. Add zucchini and carrot, and allow to cook a few more minutes. Add tomatoes, wine and seasoning, and allow to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Add-Ins: Use a mixture of any vegetables you have on hand. Red peppers also work well. The trick is to grate the vegetables (any large-grate cheese grater will do). This will allow them to melt away during the long simmering time and make them virtually unnoticeable!
Serving Suggestions: This is perfect as is with a good mound of spaghetti.
Finally, I have one last suggestion for the perfect pasta dish. One thing I always do before adding the sauce to the pasta is that I dress the hot noodles with a nob of butter, a handful of Parmesan cheese (hello parmigiano reggiano), some freshly cracked black pepper, and some fresh herbs. I find the butter and the cheese give the final dish an extra smooth and silky texture and the fresh herbs stay fresh and don't run the risk of getting over cooked. Then simply pour over your sauce (I happen to like the Italian way - just enough sauce to coat everything really well, but not so that the pasta is swimming), and serve any additional sauce on the side.
One final tip - leftover sauce (from any recipe) will freeze really well. But, if you have just a little bit left that you don't want to waste (and if you have young children), freeze it in ice cube trays for a quick defrost and quick meal for your little one if you are on the go!
I hope this has inspired you to give your own sauce a try! Hey, if you have a sauce that you love please share it with me! I'm always on the look out for new recipes and new ways to use that one can of tomatoes - and avoid buying 8 different jars!