As someone who loves to cook, we eat well on most nights. So when I asked my wife what she’d like for dinner on Mother’s Day, she knew the sky was the limit.
“I want pasta with tomato sauce.” she said. Pasta with tomato sauce? That’s what people who don’t cook eat! What about meat I asked? Would you like some Italian short ribs with that? Maybe a nice Chicken Picatta? No, she said, I want pasta, and a tomato-based sauce.
If there’s one day when Mamma gets what she wants, it’s Mother’s Day, so this morning I got up and began my sauce.
I began with finely chopped onions, 4 medium ones. For each onion was a clove of minced garlic. I sautéed these on low to get the harshness out.
Tomato based pasta sauce is very subjective, so I can’t speak for everyone, but in my opinion, one way to ruin a sauce is to make it sweet. If I am concerned that something in the sauce may make it sweet, one tool to combat this is to brown the onions a bit. In this case the onions themselves seemed to be on the sweet side so I browned them slightly. And while many recipes will have you add some sugar, I fail to see the point and never do this.
My rule for seasoning is that everything that goes in the pot gets its own salt and pepper. Thus, when I added the onions and garlic, I seasoned with S&P, and again when I added the tomatoes. This usually eliminates the need to season at the table. I also added dried Italian seasoning, probably close to a tablespoon, and a teaspoon of fennel seeds. By themselves the fennel seeds taste like licorice, but simmered throughout a large pot of sauce they add a more savory note.
I use dry seasoning because fresh herbs will not stand up to an hour or more of simmering. That said, I have a huge basil plant and figured a handful of that couldn’t hurt! For real basil flavor, however, I will also add a handful at the time of serving.
Since this was a meatless sauce I had a bit more license to add additional items. I added capers because they are a favorite of my wife’s. The bright sour note gets a little lost in the tomato sauce, but not entirely. I also added coarsely chopped Greek olives, and several cloves of roasted garlic. (I cheated on this and purchased the olives already pitted and the garlic already roasted at the supermarket olive bar.)
As this mixture sautéed and the flavors mixed, I opened 4 large cans of crushed tomatoes. This time of year it does not make sense to me to purchase out-of-season fresh tomatoes. You can find good quality canned tomatoes in several different forms.
My preference is for crushed. The puree tomatoes have to much of a whipped quality for me. In certain instances this would give a desired consistency, but for tonight’s meal I want a chunky almost stew-like consistency.
One helpful hint by the way, if your sauce is too watery (as often happens with fresh tomatoes), tomato paste will help thicken it.
In this case the sauce was thickened by my favorite ingredient, time. The sauce would simmer for about 90 minutes. Every now and then I would stir it so that the bottom would not scorch, and so that all the liquid would not cook off. The result was a thick, deeply flavored chunky sauce. It will be served with–what else–Rigatoni!
Happy Mother’s Day Alice!