Almost a year ago, I stopped buying jarred tomato sauce. No matter how “natural” or “Jersey” the tomatoes are, I don’t buy it. More shamefully than stoically I scan the entire back label and often raise two cans in the air to compare sodium levels. Yep. I am the woman that you push your cart precariously close to and say “AHEM.” Annnyway. Zeke climbs trees!
Once I saw how EASY it was to make great, nutritious sauce I openly scoffed at Newman. If convenience is the issue (which is what jarred sauce is so great for: you pop it open, boil some pasta and VOILA) then consider making the sauce on the weekend so you can freeze one batch and save the rest for a weeknight meal. Most sauces are inherently convenient and autonomous – they simmer. There are also sauces that take only an hour to make (like the one below). While the sauce simmers, you can take a shower, finish some emails, set the table, take the dog out, etc. etc. Pasta is also great for entertaining. Since most people run late and don’t think of the cook scrambling to keep plates warm (which is SO tired) spaghetti seriously saves the day (if you keep a pot of water boiling!) I like to think of spaghetti as a meal that we all share. Spaghetti evokes a sense of home. Because of that, there is a comfort level already established among the table that is unsurpassed by a more exhibitionist meal like a rack of lamb.
Spaghetti is also a great way to keep the cooking price down for a group of six. My tomato sauce comes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, a cookbook that I am forever indebted to. My only addition to her recipe is fresh basil and a few thin slices of garlic. While I was in Italy, I was recommended this cookbook by a Florentine transplant. I literally had the cookbook delivered by the time I got back to New York. There are some amazing recipes, especially the Bolognese sauce (which is a 4-5 hour ordeal but so worth it since it easily freezes and is absolutely delicious). The book is also wonderful since it combines two past cookbooks into one.
Before I write a love letter to Marcella Hazan and her wise suggestions scattered through out the book, I will share my tomato sauce and meatball recipe.
Classic Tomato Sauce
- 3-4 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
- 1 stick fine quality salted butter (this is important since there are so few ingredients and the butter should be of good quality).
- 1 large onion, peeled and sliced in half
- Salt, freshly ground pepper
- A few fresh basil leaves
- One garlic clove, thinly sliced
- Blanche tomatoes (plunge them into boiling water for 1-2 minutes, strain and cool for several minutes). Peel them.
- Slice tomatoes and place in large pan.
- Position the onion halves on either side of the pan and dot the pan with tablespoons of butter.
- Simmer for 1 hour, longer if possible. As tomatoes become soft, cut with wooden spoon and salt and pepper through out.
- Once done, discard onions (all of the flavor will be in the sauce, do not bother saving the onions, they taste horrid afterwards!)
- Cook pasta, toss with olive oil and salt. Add several large spoonfuls of sauce and toss with pasta. Divide among plates and add a bit of the sauce on top of the pasta with freshly grated cheese.
Note: I do not puree the sauce. Instead, I like to keep the sauce pretty chunky.
- 1 lb ground sirloin
- 2-3 white bread slices or 1 bun worth of fresh bread crumbs (it is important that the bread crumbs are fresh).
- Sliced fresh basil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- Half a cup freshly grated good quality parmesan cheese
- 1 egg or half a cup warm milk (to bind)
- Salt, pepper
- Combine ingredients in one bowl.
- Roll meat into loose balls and brush with dry breadcrumbs.
- Heat pan with one-tablespoon butter. Once hot, add meatballs and shake the pan so all sides are browned. Depending on how well done you like your meatballs (I like them medium-rare), cook to your own pleasing. Be careful not to overcook them though.
Top the plates of spaghetti with 3-4 meatballs each and enjoy with some good red wine (we liked it with a bottle of Chianti).