Years ago my husband got me an awesome gift for Christmas, a 3 hour personal cooking lesson with a chef who owned a local high end authentic Italian restaurant… it was a REALLY good present for me, and him come to think of it. I arrived at his restaurant in the afternoon not really knowing what to expect and really nervous about cooking in front of a “chef” but he quickly put me at ease and we spent the afternoon cooking things I liked off his menu and talking about the reasons why you add this before that and Italy and all things holy and beautiful. When we were done we sat at his bar with our dishes, he poured us some wine and we ate and drank and chatted some more and I left that day with more knowledge about cooking then I would have thought possible in a couple hours. To this day I still have to stop myself from putting those few extra ingredients in dishes that really would be fine without them. The biggest thing I learned that day was:
Always salt your boiling water for pasta… duh, of course!.. but I mean REALLy salt it, like a huge dump, a handful of salt and you can tell in the final product that every part of your pasta dish is well seasoned.
I also learned that
- fresh red sauce can be made with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil and taste amazing
- that the difference between good spaghetti sauce and mediocre is the way you cook your onions down
- that browning all the bits of things in a braising sauce with some tomato paste makes a sauce you never want to stop eating
- garlic is better in most dishes crushed and whole and not chopped (his story for this was that if a Italian man and woman were having dinner and eating a garlicky dish and the woman removed her garlic cloves and didn’t eat them than the man would do the same out of respect.. of course he totally could have made this up but it made me love Italy even more!)
- all food is better with wine
So anyway, I got distracted… Spaghetti sauce, everyone uses it, it’s something you should always have on hand for the evenings you’ve got no time and dinner still has to happen. I also keep frozen meatballs on hand and heat them up with the sauce so it’s a more filling meal than just pasta or you can saute some mushrooms and sausage and add a can of sauce or you can add some zucchini and fresh tomato or you can make pizza or you can add some red pepper flakes and cream or you can just rock it out with a plain basil marinara over pasta. The point being you will go through it, so like most things if you’re going to make it you might as well make a fair amount because it lasts, and making a couple jars is not much harder than making one. Plus Costco has these boss cans of Italian plum tomatoes for cheap, like $4 and with 2 of those I can get 5 quarts of sauce.
Basic Basil Marinara (you can scale this anyway you need, nothing needs to be exact)
- 2 6lb. cans Italian whole tomatoes
- 3 large yellow onions, chopped
- 1 head garlic, smashed
- 1 tube tomato paste concentrate
- 1 tbs. salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- handfuls of fresh basil torn
- In a large stock pot on medium add your olive oil, chopped onions and salt.
- Stir occasionally and cook for 20 minutes, not letting the mixture brown but allowing the onions to cook down into a nice soft pulp.
- Add crushed garlic cloves and tomato paste and stir frequently until the tomato paste starts to darken and smell wonderful.
- Add the whole tomatoes by grabbing them out of the can and squeezing them in your fist, letting them drop into the pot and reserving out any hard stem ends.
- When you’ve worked your way through the tomatoes pour in any remaining liquid from the can.
- Cook on low heat, uncovered and stirring occasionally for 2 hours
- Add the torn basil, let cool and pour into containers
- Can the ball jars or put into freezer safe containers and freeze