I grew up eating jar sauce when my mom made pasta (spaghetti mainly). Now in my mother’s defense (may she rest in power), she didn’t grow up on sauce at all. I’ll have to ask her remaining siblings to confirm, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t even eat pasta (with the exception of elbow macaroni) growing up. Rice was and still is their main starch staple.
I served jar sauce to my kids up until 10-11 years ago. It wasn’t until I began frequenting really great Italian restaurants, and not the local Brooklyn pizza spots, that I realized the difference between store-bought and homemade sauce. Since then, I’ve never looked back.* There are of course variations** but the most simplest version I attempt to offer here relies only a few key ingredients. You will not find me stirring a pot of sauce for hours like those Italian home-cooks they parody in movies or on TV. This is a meatless version. Anything else you’d like to add is flourish (I can certainly appreciate flourish) and even then it should never take you all day to make a delicious sauce.
A Simple Sauce
Tomatoes – now this part needs some splainin’ Lucy…
I use only one type of tomato; plum/Italian. Fresh is nice. There are some minor preparations of course to peel them, and that’s fine if you want to go through that. I usually save myself the trouble unless I’m making a fresh salsa or minimally cooked sauce. If I’m low on funds, I buy canned plum tomatoes. I try to avoid canned anything when possible (even though I adore canned beans) because of all the issues surrounding…wait, you know I really have no idea what the issues are…I want to say Alzheimer’s or botulism or typhoid Mary but I can’t recall…
I am ok with canned plum/Italian tomatoes and I buy them whole peeled or crushed depending on my mood but what I REALLY like are the Pomi brand crushed tomatoes that come in a milk carton type container. You can check their website for all of the brand benefits. They don’t pay me to endorse their product, so I won’t. But that’s enough about tomatoes. You get the point: plum and fresh.
Onions chopped – I use red for almost everything I make but white or spanish are fine as well.
Garlic – fresh and finely chopped. Please, Please, Please do not use garlic in the jar. UGH! It tastes awful!
Stock – vegetable, chicken, or beef. Just make sure it’s no sodium or low sodium
Red Wine – I won’t make sauce without it unless a gun is being held to my head. Personally I use what I drink. That runs the gambit. You got your pinot noirs, Bordeaux, cabs, montepulciano d’abruzzo, malbec, and my new favorite, a good cote de rhone. Red wine is good for you. This I know. Ask Dr. Oz.
Red pepper flakes
Kosher salt to taste.
Olive Oil – extra virgin
If I typed the ingredient in bold, that means it’s required so that’s 1..2..5! Five essential ingredients needed to making a simple yet delicious sauce.
In a saucepan; not a pot, heat olive oil. When hot, add onions and saute them until translucent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute, but careful not to burn this. Right before the garlic starts to burn on ya, add the wine (off the heat if you’re scared, then right back on once all the wine is in). I LOVE the sound of the sizzle here! You’re basically using the wine to deglaze the pan. Let that mixture simmer until the wine cooks down a bit. You’re not trying to reduce it too much. The goal here is to build the second level of flavor (the garlic, onions and red pepper flakes being the first level).
After the wine mixture has simmered, I add the stock and then the tomatoes. A pinch of salt here is cool. It helps to break down the tomatoes if you’re using fresh.
Here comes the million dollar question: How long do you let your sauce simmer?
Well if any Italians are reading this blog, I’m sure they’d be ready to tear my recipe to shreds for two, maybe three reasons; 1. using a pan instead of a pot, 2. the order in which I cooked the ingredients, and 3.how long I let the sauce simmer.
So in answer to the “How Long?” question, I can answer two ways: 1. Simmer until the sauce is no longer tart or 2. Simmer until it tastes amazing to you. Simmering allows you the time to taste and make adjustments to your seasoning.
Now in answer to “Why the pan and not a pot?” – Well I guess it depends on what you’re working with huh? When I make pasta, I use an awesome stainless steel pan that can handle an entire box of pasta. Once my sauce is done, I dump the cooked al dente pasta (unrinsed!! please!!) right into the same pan and toss. If it needs a little more liquid, add some of the pasta water.
Let me know how it turns out!
*Inserting disclaimer here: Even though I know quite a few Italians who make their own sauce, I have never, in real-life, seen an Italian person make sauce. BUT I have eaten authentic sauce (too many times to count) and my tongue never lies. My sauce is just as good as (and sometimes better than) any “authentic” sauce I’ve ever had…honest.
**Variations – Ground meat could be added after the onions become translucent. Shrimp can be added at that time as well but taken out before the wine so as to not over-cook during the remainder of the process. Kale, broccoli, zucchini, etc should be added after the garlic starts to turn golden and taken out before the wine. Once the sauce is finished you can add these ingredients back into the pan.
Seasonings – play around with this. Sometimes I add a dash of smoked paprika to the onions when sauteing. Sometimes I add a splash of Bragg’s liquid aminos as a final touch instead of salt.