That being said, HOW then, do you make the ideal sauce?! The one that tastes fresh, but not so fresh that it just tastes like a pile of tomatoes with some raw garlic on top. And how do you get that deeper flavor without cooking the sauce to death? Believe it or not, I think I have solved the problem.
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped medium
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1.5 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup medium-bodied red wine
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of sugar
There are two things that make a homemade tomato sauce less than stellar. One is if it is bland and watery, and
doesn’t have a hearty flavor, and the other is if the sauce is overcooked…but wait, how do we get that hearty flavor without the 8 hour simmer? You will find the answers to this conundrum below.Step 1:
Place the extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet and heat it over medium for a couple minutes. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sweat for 3-5 minutes, until it starts to soften. Did you note that I’m using a 12-inch skillet and not a saucepan? Gasp! This is actually a great idea though, because the wide profile of a skillet encourages evaporation more readily, which means the liquid will reduce quickly, so you don’t have to simmer for hours to get rid of that watery, bland taste. Once the tomatoes are in the mix, this will only take TEN minutes!Step 2:
Add the aromatics–red pepper flakes, garlic, dried oregano, and tomato paste–to the middle of the pan. Mash it up to break up the tomato paste, and then cook for just 30 seconds to a minute, until the tomato paste starts to turn dark red/brown. If the pan is looking really ugly, you will know you are there! P.S. Amore tomato paste is seriously the best. I know that the squeeze tube costs a little more than the little cans, but the squeeze tube will last months; try storing that opened can of tomato paste in your fridge. Regardless of how you attempt to cover up the top, it will be growing all sorts of things on it before long.
Pour the 1/4 cup of wine into the pan and scrape up the browned bits at the bottom, and simmer this mixture until it is reduced to a sort of syrup, just a couple of minutes. This might seem weird, but that little bit of wine will give a robust depth to a quick-cooking sauce. I know it’s just 1/4 of a cup, but it is a great excuse to get a bottle of wine going! P.S. Use a Beaujolais, a Merlot, or a Pinot Noir, but steer clear of a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. I used a Cabernet Franc in this.
You are seriously almost done at this point, can you believe it? Simply pour in the can of crushed tomatoes, and gently simmer for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened a bit. Season to taste with salt and pepper, throw in that pinch of sugar, and you are done!Extras:
Now I know what some of you are probably thinking: She got up on her soap box about jarred sauce and now she is using canned tomatoes? But, for most of us, we can only get good tasting, fresh tomatoes, a month or two out of the year, if that. And, believe it or not, most ‘fresh’ tomatoes, don’t taste very good the rest of the year. That being said, I used canned crushed tomatoes because that’s something that tastes good year round. However, if you want to use fresh in this recipe, go right ahead! Or, if you don’t want to use fresh but would prefer canned diced tomatoes, that is fine too. However, you will want to drain them but reserve the liquid, because it’s got a lot of that good tomato flavor in it. And when you pour in and reduce the wine, pour in the tomato juice too, and simmer it a couple extra minutes.Add-ins:
This is a fantastic, basic marinara sauce, perfect for not only pasta but for chicken parm, pizza, meatball sandwiches, you name it. I really did make the sauce this morning, and even at 10am my mouth was watering from the smells, and it was completely delicious. However, don’t think of this recipe, or any recipe, as set in stone. Here is a great little list of things you can add to this pasta to make it extra special, and to suite any unique tastes:
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
a couple tablespoons of capers
more (or less) red pepper flakes
fresh chopped basil (stirred in at the very end)
??? Whatever you want!
I hope I have successfully proven to you that a fantastic sauce doesn’t necessarily come from a jar, but it also doesn’t have to take hours to prepare. In about 20 minutes, including prep work, you can have a fantastic marinara sauce that, I promise, would make any Italian grandmother proud.