I’ve got the spring planning bug pretty bad right now.
I’ve been studying all of the seed catalogs that keep showing up, drawing out plans for the gardens, making plans to add more garden space (I know…..scary!), and thinking about all of the projects and cleanup I need to do. The place is kind of a wreck right now, since none of us wants to be out in the cold more than necessary. I’ve got A LOT of work ahead of me if this place isn’t going to continue to look like it got hit with the ugly stick!
What I’m focused on right now, though, is seed starting. I am ordering a new cover for my tiny greenhouse because it’s torn pretty badly and won’t hold any heat in or keep out the bugs and weather. Within the next week to week and a half I plan to start tomato and pepper seeds in it. This is going to be my year, darn it! Everything I’ve learned over the last few years will hopefully pay off this summer.
Sadly, it’s still February, and we probably have at least one more snow before I can fully give in to spring fever.
Now, on to sauce!
When I was in high school, I dated this guy who was two or three years ahead of me. We were together for a good two years, right into the second year of college. At the time, we had similar interests; Ann Rice was hugely popular and we were both avid readers of her books. He was big into Dungeons and Dragons, and I *gasp* even dabbled in it a bit myself (I just lost some major cool points there, I know. Or gained a lot, perhaps. It depends on what end of the geek/nerd spectrum you fall, I think). Either way, we were together long enough that I spent many, many nights with his parents for dinner. His dad came from a Sicilian family, and his mom decidedly did not. She was a sweet lady, though, and really tried her best to put familiar Italian dishes in the table. The trouble was…….she really sucked at making sauce. And sauce is pretty central to a lot of your staple Italian dishes.
It was thin and liquidy; more soup than sauce, lacking any body or flavor. When it was poured over your pasta, it disappeared under them and pooled around the sides of it, but not sticking to it at all. I died a bit inside whenever I saw her making it. I’m pretty sure she simply opened a can of tomato sauce and mixed it with an equal portion of water. Maybe she added spices? If she did, you wouldn’t have known.
I think about her every damn time I make pasta sauce, to this day. About how I wish I could go back and show her how to make a kick-ass sauce in next to no time any night of the week.
Instead, I’m going to post it here, in case anyone else needs some help with their sauce game.
First, you’ll need more than tomato sauce and water.
I like to pour a generous glug of olive oil into a sturdy pot – usually one of my cast iron dutch ovens.
Then I add chopped red onion – about half of a fairly good sized one. Once that has sauteed over medium to medium-high heat, I add at least two heaping tablespoons of minced garlic. Garlic is GOOD.
I let them simmer together until they are getting good and fragrant and then I add in some dried oregano, dried basil, dried parsley, dried red pepper (not too much or it will be spicy!), and salt. I swirl that around a bit and let it fill the kitchen with its comforting and enticing aromas. Yum.
Next I add a good 1/3 cup or so of red wine. Honestly, and old cheap red wine will do, so if you’re not a wine drinker and you only buy it for cooking, you can absolutely use the $3 Trader Joes brand. As for me, I very much enjoy red wine, and making pasta sauce is a great excuse to open a bottle. A glug for the pot, a glass for me! With Italian, I’m partial to a good Amarone or Barolo, but you do you!
The only caveat here is the sweetness of the sauce. I know some people like their sauce a bit on the sweeter side, and add sugar. I am here to tell you that there is enough natural sugar in the wine to round out the saltiness perfectly, but if you want it a little sweeter, you can use a sweeter red wine to achieve it, and you don’t need to use sugar.
Once the wine has simmered down and reduced most of the way (I like for there to still be about 1/4 to 1/8 cup), I add a big can of crushed tomatoes.
NOT TOMATO SAUCE. It will not give your finished product much texture or flavor. If you need your sauce to be a bit thinner, you can always add a smaller can of tomato sauce, but your main tomato ingredient should be chunky, not thin.
San Marzano is my favorite to use. It has a much less “tinny” taste to it. And the gorgeous Italian there is one of my favorite reds to use/drink.
In the summer, when I’ve had a good tomato crop, I will substitute slow-roasted tomatoes for the crushed tomatoes, and puree some fresh tomatoes to keep it from being too thick. But in the interest of saving time, a good can of crushed tomatoes will do.
See the red wine that’s reduced around the edges of the pot? Adds such a lovely depth of flavor.
Now I turn the heat to low and let it simmer for about 45 minutes or so.
The finished sauce will stand up nicely to your pasta, and sit on top of it, rather than pooling under.
Am I here to tell you this sauce is life-changing? Nope. Is it the best sauce ever created? Probably not. But it’s fresh, it’s tasty, it’s easy, and it’s quick. For a weeknight meal, it’s a perfect way to serve a sauce that doesn’t taste like it came from a can, or that you threw together at the last minute.
And Dawn, if you’re out there, I hope you’ve found a better way to make your own sauce.