When we got married, I vowed to myself that I would master a few things in the kitchen. I don’t believe all wives need to be master chefs. I just like to cook, and knew I needed to amp up my game now that I was cooking for more than just myself.
I made a list of these things. Of course I did. I’m a J.
The items on this list varied from croissants to pot roast.
And yes, I’m fully aware that croissants and pot roast don’t go together. Thanks for pointing that out. Beginning my day with croissants, and ending it with pot roast, sounds fab. That’s why they’re on the list.
But I digress.
Somewhere in the middle of all this randomness was my desire to master a good tomato sauce. A sauce I could use for pasta dishes to pizza to meatball subs. A versatile sauce. Kind of like your favorite pair of jeans. Dressed up or down, it’s always good. That’s what I wanted.
It took a while…nearly two years to be honest. I had to make a lot of really bad sauces to finally figure the whole dadgum thing out…and figure it out I did.
And the verdict? Tomato sauce, when made according to a few fundamental rules, is a totally delicious addition to your repertoire. There are lots of different, equally delicious ways to make a good one. And there are a lot of variations. This is one profile.
First, tomato sauce is about two things. Your ingredients and layering flavors.
For ingredients, you need fresh basil. I don’t think there is a scent in the world better than fresh basil. There is also no substitute to this stuff. Then you need a good olive oil, and higher-quality canned tomatoes. If you’ve got the cash, San Marzano. If not, regular canned tomatoes are fine. Just don’t buy off brand. They’re sour, which = gross.
If either of these three ingredients are off, your sauce is off. Period. End of story.
For the layering of flavors, it’s all about patience. Cook your oil and onions — and the rest of your sauce for that matter — on medium heat. You’re not boiling water here. Slow and steady wins the race.
The onions need to break down and get transparent. Then add your garlic. These are your aromatics. You need to let them cook to pull out the flavors. Then it’s your next layer of wine or balsamic vinegar. These flavors give depth. Let your onions absorb their flavor. Next, your tomatoes, seasonings, and herbs. Let it all cook together. Do a taste test. Add more salt, basil, crushed red pepper, whatever. Just taste it.
The rest of the sauce is up to you, play with it. Do you like it sweeter? Do you like more depth of flavor? Do you want a spicy bite? Do you want meat? Sausage or beef or turkey?
This recipe is the result of me playing with it for a couple years now. I think it’s pretty good. But more than likely it will morph as the years go on. That’s the beauty of cooking. It adapts to you.
2 Tbsp, olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup red wine
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes, undrained
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
4 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
optional: 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper for heat, 1 lb. italian sausage, ground beef or ground turkey.
1) In a large saucepan, cook the oil and onion together over medium heat until the onions are transparent. If you’re using meat, add it here as well. Be sure to drain off any excess grease from the meat.
2) Add your garlic and cook a minute longer.
3) Add your wine and balsamic vinegar. Let the wine condense down by half and simmer for a few minutes.
4) Stir in your tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar and seasonings. Bring to a boil. The tomatoes will break down on their own; use the back of your spoon if they need a little help. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered for 1 1/2 hours.