By: Francesca Montillo, The Lazy Italian
A few ingredients are all you need for a delicious and versatile sauce. I didn’t have fresh basil, so I used some frozen leaves from the summer batch.
For the past few years, my mother has become my (unofficial, and unpaid!) proofreader for all my recipes for my cooking classes and my blog posts on this site. I do this for a number of reasons, which ultimately helps me, but also helps the students in my cooking classes and also you, my dear readers.
For one thing, she has what I call “beady little eyes.” I swear she will spot a typo a mile away! It’s not unlike her to snoop around this website, find a typo in a 2-year old post and call me out on it! Now, I know better and send her everything before it’s posted here or printed for the students!
Secondly, well, since she has always been my culinary educator, instructor and teacher, and many of the recipes I use in my cooking classes and what you see here are hers, I find it only fair that I let her read and review them, just to make sure I have everything just right and approved by her!
Recently, I handed her a batch of recipes to proofread before photocopying for the students in a cooking class, and this was her reaction:
“Sauce? You’re teaching them how to make sauce? But it’s so easy and quick, doesn’t everybody already know how to make sauce?” Oh, the things we take for granted living in an Italian household. I had to break it to her slowly, that no, unlike our household, not everyone prepares several batches of sauce a week! She was saddened to learn of this.
She is right though, as she always tends to be, and a simple, basic and straightforward tomato sauce is perhaps the easiest thing you can cook, and it’s by far the most versatile recipe you will ever use. The ingredients are few, and the prep takes five minutes at most, the cooking anywhere from 20 – 25 minutes. And the use? Well, this sauce can be used in hundreds, if not thousands of dishes.
To give you an idea, at its most basic form, this sauce is used for preparation of basic “pasta al pomodoro,” or just pasta with tomato sauce. Add some parmigiano and peperoncino from my native Calabria, and you have a delicious first course. But it obviously does not stop there. I use this as pizza sauce over the dough, as opposed to uncooked (thus unflavored) sauce. This is the base for pasta fagiola (pasta and beans), and this is the sauce used to cook my meatballs. This sauce is used for the base of stuffed shells, parmigiana (both the chicken and eggplant type), and I don’t prep any soup without adding a ¼ of a cup of this sauce. This sauce is used for eggs in purgatory, as a dipping sauce to fried foods such as cutlets or fried meatballs and also goes great over steamed green beans and other veggies, especially the bland cauliflower. Pasta and ceci, or pasta with chickpeas is also made using this sauce. Add a few tablespoons of this to your chicken soup, and you have a delicious soup, with a broth that takes on a much more appealing color. And braciole? Those beloved beef bundles are also cooked in this sauce.
You get the picture, right? Master this and open the door to hundreds of dishes!
A batch of this sauce is always in my fridge. Because it’s meatless and simple, it refrigerates well for up to 4 – 5 days. The non-negotiable ingredients are garlic, onion, parsley, basil, olive oil, salt and good quality canned crushed tomatoes. A few add-ons that you can include are finely diced carrot, celery or sweet bell pepper. Personally, I rarely add those, as I tend to find that the fewer the ingredients, the more versatile it is.
As for the brand of crushed tomatoes? You’re going to want to taste a few on your own and find a favorite. San Marzano are obviously delicious, but costly if you make this as often as I do. Other tested brands that I enjoy include Muir Glen Organic, Whole Foods brand, Cento and my everyday go-to: Pastene.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
½ small onion, diced (3 – 4 chopped scallions can be used as an alternative)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, stems removed
2 – 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz can of crushed peeled tomatoes
Salt to taste – about 1 teaspoon
1 ¼ cup of water
3 – 4 basil leaves
2) Add the can of tomatoes. This will splatter about a bit as it hits the hot oil, mix everything with a wooden spoon. Add the salt, the water and basil leaves. (Basil burns quickly so I add it with the sauce and not before, in the oil. You can also add the basil in the middle of the cooking process.)
4) Reduce the heat to low, cover with lid and let that simmer for 20 – 22 minutes, mixing a few times during the cooking time. The longer it simmers, the thicker and darker the sauce will become.
5) Remove from the heat and use to dress your pasta or to complete any other dish you had in mind.
*Refrigerate leftovers up to 4 – 5 days. This actually freezes really well. Freeze any unused portion (or make one pot on purpose to just freeze) in a glass container with a lid and defrost overnight in the fridge.