Monday, March 4, 2013

The Way I Make "Spaghetti Sauce"

There was a time, way (way) back when I was living more or less on my own and was in graduate school, that I felt that one should know how to make “spaghetti sauce.” You know, something tomato-y and garlicky, perhaps meaty and peppery. Something to put on spaghetti. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how my mom made hers. Yes, I was in graduate school and my education had such a lack. I have a vague memory of turning to my red-and-white-checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook as a source of self-improvement.

So this isn’t my Italian grandmother’s secret recipe, the biggest reason being that I don’t have an Italian grandmother. It is, however, plainly and simply, the way I make sauce for pasta. My ingredient list has evolved over the years, but I can’t really say I can trace my logic except in a few simple places: I remember chopping up a whole green pepper and putting it in and I really liked the results, so it stayed; and, in order to remember what size cans of tomato products to use, I settled on three that would stack into a pyramidal tower. The large (28-ounce) can of tomatoes on the bottom, the 15-ounce can of sauce on top of that, and at the spire the little (6-ounce) can of tomato paste.
This sauce takes a long time to make, but most of that is stewing time in which the cook mostly waits for things to happen. There’s not even that much chopping, and there’s very little measuring involved. It’s so versatile, however, and it freezes well, so I really should make it more regularly to keep on hand. I not only top pasta with it just as it is, but I’ll also add seasoned ground beef or meatballs; use it to make lasagna; and mash up some of the chunkier bits, add some crushed fennel seed and a little honey or sugar and use it as a pizza sauce.

No, this is not an Italian-American grandmother’s secret recipe, but, like any Italian grandmother worth her sale, it’s the way I make it and the way I like it, and I get no complaints when I serve it to guests (or my husband). It’s a basic sauce and it’s a good sauce…and it can really mess up an apron!


Basic Tomato Pasta Sauce
Additional salt, seasonings, and a little sugar may be needed depending on the brand of canned tomato products you use and your personal preferences.

If available, substitute fresh herbs to taste if you prefer. Since I made this in the winter, I stuck with more convenient dried herbs.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium green bell pepper, seeds, ribs and stems removed, finely chopped
1 medium sweet yellow onion, skin and root removed, finely chopped
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil

a small amount of sugar, additional salt or additional seasonings, to taste if needed

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large kettle or Dutch oven.  Add the bell pepper, onion and salt. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally about 10 minutes or until the peppers and onions are soft and just beginning to brown.

2. Stir in the red pepper flakes and garlic. Cook about 1 minute more. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and cook about 2 hours at a very gentle boil, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be very thick and the peppers and onions very tender.

3. Remove the bay leaf. Taste the sauce and add some sugar if it is too sour. Add additional salt or other seasonings to taste as well.

Makes a big pot of sauce that can be used to top pasta, in lasagna and other casseroles, or even on pizza. Keep refrigerated for a few days or frozen for a few months.


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