Sunday, September 17, 2006

Cooking: Basic Pasta Sauce

Quickie post this lazy Sunday afternoon--just wanted to share my basic pasta sauce recipe with all y'all. For the longest time, I didn't question the fundamental American assumption that pasta sauce comes in jars. Period. No further thought required. Then one fateful shopping trip, while tenaciously deciphering which pasta sauce had the cheaper unit price and then asking myself if this was a sauce I actually desired to consume, it hit me. I could actually make my own pasta sauce. My own! Let me share a little secret with you: at its most basic, pasta sauce is really just...wait for it...tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes. Eureka!

Now there are about a hundred bajillion recipes for tomato sauce (basic pasta sauce) out there. By all means, go forth and sample. But if you're like me and the idea of making your own sauce is a novel shift of paradigm, here's a good place to start. The veggies I give below are my basic mix, but you can certainly add or subtract based on what you have in your fridge and your tastes.

A note on the tomatoes: If they're in season, sauce made from fresh beefsteak tomatoes is to die for. Plan extra time for it, though, as it takes a good hour or so for the tomatoes to simmer down into a sauce. However, if it's the middle of winter, if you're short on time, or if you just don't feel like it, a can of diced tomatoes is a perfectly reasonable substitute. There is no shame in home cooking. Get a 28 oz can of your grocery store fav--
I use "Nature's Promise" brand from Stop&Shop, from their new line of organic products. You can usually find cans with Italian spices or without, salted or not. If you want quick and easy, go for the pre-spiced stuff. If you're feeling adventurous, go for no spices, no salt and add your own.

A note for folks on Weight Watchers: The only ingredient adding points to this sauce is olive oil. Since such a small amount is used, I usually average this out to about 1/2 of a point (just to keep me honest). If you add in the wine, kick the sauce up to a whole point. Serve 3/4 cup of sauce over a cup of pasta for a good meal for just around 5 points.


Emma's Basic Pasta Sauce
makes 6-8 servings

28 oz can of diced tomatoes with the juices--with Italian spices or not
or 2 pounds or more of beefsteak tomatoes (about 4 large), cored, peeled, and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

1 whole sweet onion--diced
1/2 large (or 1 small) zucchini--diced and salted (salt draws out the liquid in the zucchini)
1 red pepper (or orange or yellow)--diced
1/2 package of mushrooms--sliced (about 1 cup sliced)
3 medium-sized cloves garlic
2 cubes of veggie, chicken, or beef bouillon (I like using bouillon instead of broth for the concentrated flavor and to keep the amount of liquid used in the sauce at a minimum)
1-2 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup of red wine (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan or wok. Add onions and zucchini, and saute until barely translucent. Add garlic and stir until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add peppers and stir until onions are fully translucent and zucchini is almost cooked through. Add mushrooms and saute for a minute or so. (If making sauce from whole tomatoes, do not cook the veggies as fully before adding the tomatoes. They will cook more fully as the sauce simmers.)

Add canned tomatoes (or diced whole tomatoes) and allow to come to a boil. Once boiling, add bouillon cubes, basil, and other spices. Reduce to a simmer. If using canned tomatoes, start water boiling for pasta. If using whole tomatoes, allow to simmer until sauce reaches desired consistency--between 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. In either case, stir occasionally.

Just before serving, stir in 1/2 cup of red wine if desired--this will give your sauce a nice depth of taste. Also, make sure the bouillon cubes are completely dissolved. There's nothing like chomping down on a bouillon cube to put you off salt for life. Or at least the next several minutes. But at least the faces you make will provide endless entertainment for any nearby guests, children, or other various loved ones.


Angelina said...

It sounds very good! I'm not sure yet, but i think my friend Lisa and I are going to go pick beefsteaks to preserve from a near by farm. I plan to get extras for roasting and making some sauce to freeze. I think I might just have to make this one.

Joyce said...

Emma: Your mom here, is very impressed that you are so into cooking. Do any of your readers know that you were pretty absent from the kitchen during your growing up years. Once you passed the "Let's Make Cookies" stage, food did not interest you much. You were totally busy with other things...learning 2 languages, taking ballet lessons, etc. Anyway, I guess you learned more about cooking when we made those cookies than I thought.

What you didn't get is my recipe for homemade tomato sauce. It was given to me by my Italian friend from New Jersey. I worked for her in her bagel bakery back in the mid-70's. I just used this recipe to demonstrate assemblage cooking for my Weight Watcher meetings. I promised the groups I would type it up and give them a copy. It has several "secret" ingredients that you would never think of using. But, her Italian ancestors had been making it this way for years. I will send you a copy and you can publish it in your blog. Meanwhile, blog readers, you can hang in suspense. Emma's mom

Emma C said...

I was listening more than you thought, huh, Mom? Like a fine pasta sauce, some things just take time to simmer... :)