I’ve been making tomato sauce for a long time. One of my earliest memories is of stirring spaghetti sauce while my mom was on the phone (the other is making chocolate cake for my third birthday). Back in 2007, one of my regular foods was spaghetti and sauce. I mentioned it somewhere in the saga of getting engaged, for example.
A few weeks after that, making spaghetti and tomato sauce came up on The Motley Fool, and I posted my then-current recipes for winter tomato sauce (starting with canned tomatoes) and summer tomato sauce (starting with fresh tomatoes). The one thing I’ll add from the perspective of 11 years later is that I have since learned to can my own tomato sauce and salsa. I highly recommend trying it — this is definitely a burst of summer in the midst of winter at a level that the canned stuff in the store can’t match.
It’s pretty easy to make a really tasty spaghetti sauce. Try something like this:
Tomato Sauce for Winter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed and chopped
[other chopped veggies, like zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, green pepper, red pepper, fresh tomatoes]
2 tsp. olive oil
2 15 oz. cans no-salt added diced tomatoes
2 8 oz. cans no-salt added tomato sauce (the kind in the can that’s just tomatoes)
2 cans no-salt added tomato paste
1 tsp. basil leaves
1 tsp. oregano leaves
1 tsp. parsley leaves
salt and pepper to taste (see below)
sweetener (see below)
In a large skillet, preferrably castiron (so you can get the iron from the interaction of the tomato acid with the pan), sautee the onions and garlic in the olive oil until the smell is so good that you’re dying. Put the garlic in after the onions because it cooks faster.
Once they’re coming along nicely, add any other veggies you might want. Let them cook down to the point where they’ve released their liquid and are starting to brown.
Stir in the tomato-based ingredients, herbs, and sweetener (see below). Cover and simmer for an hour (or as long as you can stand it, but longer is better here).
If there’s any left after you eat it the first night, this is something that you can freeze in single servings pretty easily. Then it’s always ready to go.
Now, about that salt and sweetener. If you go directly from too-salty, too-sweet store-bought sauce to the above, it will taste flat and “empty.” You will definitely need to add salt the first few times if you use the unsalted tomatoes — reducing the salt content in food takes a while to get used to.
Similarly with sugar. I like my spaghetti sauce a little sweet, so when I make the above, I use a little sweetening. My family’s secret ingredient for all recipes is pure maple syrup, and I highly recommend it in the above. You need about 1 1/2 tsp. Alternatively, you can use about 1/2 tsp white sugar or brown sugar. If you’re dieting and avoiding sugar, you can also use Splenda with good effect. Use about half a packet. If you’re opposed to all sweeteners, you can add carrot to the vegetables. That’ll sweeten up the mix somewhat as well.
Now, that’s a good sauce for January, which it was at the time. However, if you’re in the middle of the summer and need a tomato sauce, there’s an even better option. I learned a version of this from my Italian housemate Jen. She used the olive oil from her family’s property in Italy. The sauce was to die for. However, Trader Joe’s olive oil will also do in a pinch.
Tomato Sauce for Summer
2 tsp. olive oil, the darkest, richest you can find
2 cloves garlic, pressed and chopped
10 of the ripest tomatoes around, chopped
4-5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped
Salt, pepper, and sweet to taste
Sautee the garlic long enough to fill your house with the aroma of olive oil and garlic. Add the tomatoes and let them sizzle and simmer in the pan. Purists peel the tomatoes before this step; I don’t bother. Now let it cook down for a while. You’re not going to cook it down to something really thick, though. Just cook it down until all the tomatoes are squishy and becoming a sauce. Note: This means your sauce will end up under the pasta. Have something ready to sop it up with. Add the basil and parsley, stir it in and let it sit there for a while so the flavors can meld.
With really good tomatoes, you only need a little salt and this recipe is complete. As the tomato quality decreases, you need to increase the other sweetener to make up for the loss of sugars in the tomato. This is a spot where plain sugar, which doesn’t alter flavor, is a better alternative than other sweeteners. When you have fresh basil and fresh tomatoes, it is sooooooo good!
MmmmmMMMmmm. Gotta love tomatoes.