Sometimes the dinner plan doesn’t sound quite as good at this very moment as you’d hoped. And it’ll be fine… tomorrow. Promise.
It helps to have some back-pocket go-to easy-as-can-be dishes which you can conjure out of the pantry, freezer, quick drop-in at the grocery on the way home, or a farmers market if it’s not wintertime.
Which is what we did last night.
“Can we have spaghetti and meatballs?”
“You bet. Which kind?”
“Just the plain kind?”
“Gotcha. But I need tomatoes and an onion,” I said. I also needed garlic and basil, but I had those already.
I quit buying jars of pasta sauce a long time ago. I never figured out how they simultaneously started using fewer real ingredients (a.k.a. food) and still became more expensive. And they usually tasted too much like sugar to me anyway.
The good news is, I suppose, many of our prepared foods are trying to be more and more wholesome now. Or I should say, again. We, the buying-cooking-eating people, have demanded better quality food and the companies are starting to listen more. But fresh tomato sauce is so easy and quick to make. And I hope once you taste it, assuming you haven’t before, you won’t want to go back to a jar. At least not all the time.
My wife arrived home shortly thereafter with a couple pounds of tomatoes and a giant onion. I can always use extra onion, so no worries, I used a quarter of it.
What kind of tomatoes? Whatever you can find. I once heard someone say that pasta sauce was the perfect home for the unloved and sad tomatoes. However, these were anything but that!
The goal is taste and variety is fine. You can use beefsteak, heirloom, cherry, or any other tomatoes you can get your hands on. It’s like wine: if it tastes good then you can cook with it. (And conversely, if it’s wine you wouldn’t drink, don’t cook with it!)
Sauté the chopped onion in a glug of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt over medium heat for ten or fifteen minutes while you’re chopping tomatoes and garlic. Stir occasionally. It’s okay if they start browning a bit but do not let them burn. (Add a spoon of water and turn down the heat if it starts to burn.)
Tomato skin. There’s two ways to go about this. You can score the bottoms, blanch, and peel your tomatoes. Or you can just use a hand blender at the end. Which is what I do.
“But… Grandma didn’t have a hand blender!”
“I’m reasonably sure if mine could have, she would have.”
So I rough chop the tomatoes and fine chop the garlic.
I then tear my basil leaves because I think it releases more flavor that way. You can chop it if you want. March to your own drum. If you don’t have fresh basil then use dried. It’s 3:1, so 3 teaspoons (or 1 tablespoon) of fresh is 1 teaspoon of dried. Remember, first make sure your spices have not celebrated a birthday.
Once the onions are tender and a bit caramelized, I make an empty spot in the pan with my wooden spoon and I add the chopped garlic to that spot. It will cook in less than a minute so be ready with your chopped tomatoes. Once the tomatoes are in, add another teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of pepper, and your basil leaves.
Resist the temptation to add salt to taste at this point since you’re reducing the liquid and it’s going to get saltier as it goes.
Let simmer for about half an hour. You want the tomatoes to taste cooked, not raw anymore. Don’t cover the pot — you want the liquid to reduce. If you feel more comfortable with a splatter screen, by all means use one.
Tomatoes are about 94% water. The more you reduce the sauce, the more intense the flavor will be. If you take it too far, add a little of your pasta water to the pot. Which reminds me, now’s probably a good time to start boiling water for the pasta. I’m also making meatballs so I need to get those going too.
Stir the sauce occasionally. When it’s ready, reduced to the thickness you like best and that raw taste is gone, it’s time for the hand blender. Remember, the one you can also use for homemade mayo? Also called an immersion blender, stick blender, or — if you’re Chef Emeril LaGasse — a boat motor.
Please be careful not to splash hot sauce out of the pan. Set your blender to its lowest speed, fully submerge it, keep it flat, and slowly move it around until your sauce is as blended as you prefer. I like to leave mine just a little bit chunky, but that’s me. Seriously, be careful out there.
Reduce the heat to low, enough to keep the sauce warm while everything else finishes up cooking. Again, if it gets too thick, add a spoon of the pasta water.
Now’s the time to check your salt and pepper one last time. When it comes to salt, add a little and taste, add a little and taste. You can’t take too much salt back out!
Serve when ready. Maybe a few small basil leaves or some grated Parmesan cheese on top.
Simple Fresh Tomato Sauce
Fresh tomato sauce tastes so good and is so easy. It's time to go jar-free! Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 pounds fresh tomatoes About 4 cups chopped.
- 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
- 8 leaves fresh basil, torn into pieces About 1 teaspoon dried.
- 1 teaspoon each, salt and pepper
Chop tomatoes, onion, and garlic.
Add olive oil, onion, and a teaspoon of salt to a pot over medium heat. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until onions are softened.
Cook chopped garlic for about 30 seconds in a bare spot of the pot.
Add tomatoes, torn basil leaves, and a teaspoon of salt and pepper.
Simmer for about 30 minutes. The sauce will reduce by about half and the raw tomato taste should be gone.
If desired, using a hand blender, blend/smooth out the remaining tomato skins and bits of onion to desired thickness.
Adjust seasonings and serve.