There is nothing that I love more than a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce. Tomato sauce is inexpensive, versatile, and so easy to make. You can literally let it stew for hours unattended while you do your thing. I am known amongst my friends and family as the tomato sauce queen. Here are some of my tips and also some of my favorite recipes. 🍅
Thick Tomato Sauce
The only way to make thick tomato sauce is to use canned tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes create a thinner sauce. Trust me. Don’t believe the haters who say that a complex sauce can’t be created in a half hour. They are liars! Thick tomato sauce is great for anything from ravioli to shells. It’s also better for weird pasta shapes (like wheels) than thin pasta, because it coats better.
1. Pricing. There are different qualities of canned tomatoes, different brands costing anywhere from 89 cents to $6.00. You can taste a slight difference with the tomatoes themselves, but not enough to warrant dropping lots of money. I recommend just going to your local Dollar Store and buying bulk cans of whatever is cheapest. One 12 oz can of tomatoes makes two meals for me.
2. Canned variety. Sometimes I like to buy “fire roasted tomatoes” or “herbed tomatoes” to mix it up. Even with the stronger varieties, any initial taste they have will be mostly covered up by whatever you put in the sauce. Remember: fresh herbs are always better than dried ones!
3. Building your sauce. If you’re going to put anything that needs cooking in your sauce (NOT meat, but any garlic, onions, mushrooms, carrots) cook these in a sauce pan first. Use oil, not butter. Add any dried herbs or spices you want to this initial mix.
4. Get going. Add your tomato sauce to the pan and get it bubbling. Now is the time to add anything that doesn’t need cooking (olives, capers, anchovies, pickled anything). I like to use brines in my sauces, so I add them at this point. For example, if I’m making a puttanesca sauce, I’ll add my black olives and pour the black olive juice right into my pan.
5. Taste it. Take a spoonful and taste it. If you don’t like it’s taste, add some more spices. If it’s too acidic, add tomato paste. At this point you can either turn it on low and let it cook for an hour, which creates a very rich and thick sauce. Or, you can cook some meat or veggies and add your fresh herbs. Always ad your fresh herbs in right before you’re about to eat! Otherwise they’ll wilt and you won’t taste their flavor.
Some easy thick sauces:
Puttanesca: From Series of Unfortunate events (and also Italy). Cook garlic and onions first. Don’t let them brown too much, just get them not raw. Add your canned tomatoes, let the sauce sizzle while adding salt and pepper (don’t go crazy on the salt). Add anchovies, black olives, capers, and other pickled things (pickled mushrooms, jalapeños, pearl onions, etc). Pour your black olive juice right into the sauce pan. Let it cook until the sauce has absorbed the olive juice. Top with cheese.
Marinara: Brown some garlic and onions in olive oil. Add tomato paste to the pan after the onions and garlic have turned golden, and swirl it around so that it gets toasted. Add your canned tomatoes and any dried herbs you may be using (thyme, parsley, oregano… but be gentle with your oregano pouring). Let reduce if you added the dried herbs, otherwise add fresh herbs and serve immediately. Put this on your pizza or in your lasagna.
Bolognese: Cook your meat first with oil, seasoning with cumin, garlic powder, pepper and salt. Or whatever spice blend you enjoy. Remove the cooked meat, and use the juices as the base for your tomato sauce. Pour your canned tomatoes and mix the sauces. Add chopped carrots or your other favorite vegetables. Cook until the veggies are fork tender, and add your meat back in. Hearty and warming!
Thin Tomato Sauce
This type of sauce always reminds me of summertime at my parent’s house when my mom would make her basil tomato sauce (see bellow). A thin sauce doesn’t have to be lighter than a thick sauce, but it definitely interacts with pasta differently and really needs a long pasta or a penne pasta to properly pick it up.
1. Fresh tomatoes. You don’t need to spend your lifesavings on beautiful heirloom tomatoes (in fact I’d urge you to just eat any heirloom tomato you happen upon raw). Any old tomato will do, even ones that are starting to sag and move towards the end of their lives. One fresh tomato makes two meals for me.
2. Cutting tomatoes. Cut the bottom of the tomato off and slice your tomato that way, cutting into the core. This way, no part of your tomato goes unused. For quick cooking, chop the tomato up small. If you have more time, leave large chunks to caramelize. You get a bit more flavor this way, but we don’t all have the luxury of time, so don’t stress about it.
3. Sauce base. With this type of tomato sauce, your base is 90% oil. The tomatoes themselves aren’t heavy enough to carry themselves, so do not skimp on the oil. I recommend cooking garlic and onions and browning them before adding your tomatoes. Allow them to dissolve into the sauce while you do your dishes or whatever.
4. Acidity. Fresh tomatoes can make for a really acidic sauce. Make sure to cook some veggies or meat to help balance out the flavor. Cook these in a separate pan while your tomatoes are reducing. Remove them, and pour their juices into the sauce. I recommend bacon.
5. Too much reducing/gloppy sauce. You may have to add water if your sauce becomes too reduced. Don’t worry if you add too much water, just let the sauce reduce to a comfortable consistency. Add your fresh herbs minutes before it’s done. I would skip the spices or dried herbs, their taste is too powerful for this sort of sauce.
Some easy thin sauce combos:
Hello onion: Caramelize half an onion. Chop it up into thin slices so that it will cook faster. Cook bacon and pour the drippings over the cooking onion. Add your fresh tomatoes and add water to help everything reduce. Be careful adding salt, the pasta will have salt from the bacon juices already. Add the crumbled bacon after you’ve turned the sauce off.
Mom’s basil sauce: Using olive oil and chopped garlic, cook tomatoes with salt and pepper. Add basil when the tomatoes have reduced.
Veggie blast: Brown onions and garlic (or not). After they’ve browned, add your favorite veggies to the sauce. I have a soft spot for squashes so I like to use eggplant and whatever squash we have in our fridge. I encourage you to get creative and to try different things. Add your tomatoes shortly after adding your veggies, because you don’t want the veggies to overcook and becoming mushy. Add spinach or kale after the sauce has reduced, and season heavily with salt and pepper. Seriously, veggies need salt.
This was absolutely perfect in every single way. It’s rich with flavor, slightly spicy, and a great dinner for a winter weeknight.
I will post a detailed ravioli recipe in another post – the focus of this recipe is the meat sauce.
1 small yellow onion, diced
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 lb Italian chicken sausage (hot or sweet)
1 full jar tomato passata
2 cups spinach, roughly chopped
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp granulated onion
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
½ - 1 tbsp granulated sugar
Pinch red pepper flakes
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb cooked cheese ravioli
Heat a large dutch oven or pot over medium heat.
Once the pot has come to temperature, drizzle a few tbsp of olive oil into the bottom and add in the onions and garlic.
Sweat the onions and garlic until the onions become translucent. Season with salt and pepper.
Once the onions are translucent, raise the temperature to medium high and add in the chicken sausage.
Break apart the sausage using a wooden spoon, season with granulated onion and garlic and cook until browned.
As the chicken begins to brown, add in the entire jar of tomato passata [making sure to add water to the jar to add the excess], dried basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, sugar and stir. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes, allowing the sauce to thicken.
During the final minutes of simmering, cook the ravioli, drain and reserve a small amount of pasta water.
Raise the heat to medium once again, and add in the spinach and stir.
Italian food forever holds the key to my heart😌🌿🍝 and my all-time favourite has to be HOMEMADE POTATO GNOCCHI👌🏼👌🏼 perfectly soft pillows of potato goodness with a roasted tomato, garlic + basil sauce, makes for the perfect cosy dinner to end a long busy week🌟 they’re actually surprisingly easy to make too!
The recipe is from my Ebook ~ link is in my bio❤️ what are you having for dinner on this Friday night?
the meals that i had at modern love in brooklyn a few days ago :) gnocchi with a creamy tomato basil garlic sauce, almond ricotta and some greens and a warm brownie topped with cookie dough icecream, caramel sauce and whipped cream. i definitely can recommend going there- such a special and warm atmosphere. especially great for date nights!