Before I fledged the nest and moved out my mother made it her mission to teach me how to cook a few staple things to ensure I could fend for myself and not starve, and one of those was a quick and simple Italian inspired sauce that I could use in a variety of dishes.
At that time I didn’t have much time to cook (aka I was lazy and couldn’t be bothered) and I didn’t have the money for expensive ingredients (aka I was broke) therefore the foods my mother wanted to teach me to cook had to be super quick, super easy and cheap as chips, and I can say that this Italian inspired tomato sauce satisfies all three criterion, and it is one of the most useful things I have ever learned to make, period.
Making my Italian inspired tomato sauce
This is all you need (pasta optional)
This tomato sauce uses basic ingredients you can get from any store, it uses few ingredients (although it is possible to “beef it up” and pad it out a little) and it uses super cheap ingredients. The basic ingredients you will need to make this delicious Italian tomato sauce consists of one onion, two cloves of garlic, one can of tomatoes and a pot of mixed dry herbs..... and that’s it. You really can't get much simpler than that.
Whilst the above ingredients will make a super tasty and delicious Italian tomato sauce, over the years I have added a few more ingredients to make it tickle my taste buds and enhance the flavours a bit more, and these include tomato puree, sugar, salt and pepper. As you can see I haven’t added too many other ingredients because the base recipe is just so good.
Although you can use either brown onions or red onions to make the tomato sauce I have to admit that I use red onions because I refer the taste. I used to use brown onions until one day I had run out ad had to use a red onion I had lurking at the back of the fridge, and I haven’t used a brown onion since. That fateful day made me realise just how tasty red onions are and I haven’t looked back.
When it comes to canned tomatoes I used to use basic chopped tomatoes, however I now use sweet plum tomatoes. I discovered that plum tomatoes were tastier and added more substance to the tomato sauce purely by accident when I picked up a can of plum tomatoes in error at the supermarket. I prefer the taste and the texture of plum tomatoes, but again it is down to personal preference so feel free to use what you prefer, or what you have lurking around in the food cupboard.
I know of many ‘cooks’, and I use that term loosely, who scoff at dried herbs and won’t use anything but fresh. Okay, you can use fresh herbs to make this tomato sauce and I have used fresh herbs once but I won’t do again. Oh no, I much prefer dried herbs. I find chopping fresh herbs small and finely enough an absolute chore, even with a sharp knife, and it takes ages. Fresh herbs also have a short shelf life so you have to think about making sure you have some available when making the tomato sauce. Dried herbs are pre-cut and last for months, so they are ideal and I always ensure I have at least one tub of mixed dried herbs.
Making the tomato sauce
Once you get it going the tomato sauce won’t take long to cook therefore you need to get all of the ingredients ready before going anywhere near the cooker.
Chop the onions and garlic
First off you need to chop the onion and garlic. Some people dice the garlic and onion so small that it disappears in the sauce, which is fine if you like it that way, however I don’t. I like chunky pieces of onion, and garlic for that matter therefore I slice and dice them small but not tiny. Many people don’t like big pieces of garlic, but as long as it is cooked properly you shouldn’t have any issues with larger pieces of garlic. At the end of the day, it is down to personal preference, however the first step involves slicing and dicing the onion and garlic.
With the base vegetables chopped you need to open the can of tomatoes, measure out the dried mixed herbs and get the salt and pepper ready (if you are using it to season of course).
The tools for chopping the garlic and onions
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Frying the onion and garlic
With everything ready and good to go it is time to put some vegetable oil in the pan and heat it up to fry off the onion and garlic. I use a non-stick wok to make my Italian tomato sauce (it is the pan I use to make ninety per cent of my meals) and pour in the oil by eye. Whilst recipe books accurately measure and weigh everything out I have to admit that I don’t cook this way, and will add ingredients until “it looks about right”.
When frying off the onion and garlic it is important to sweat them off slowly and not get the oil too hot. It is vital you don’t burn the onions and garlic because it will ruin the sauce and you will never get rid of the burnt taste. Basically, if you burn the onions and/or garlic you have to throw them away and start again. Even if you slightly burn the onions and garlic you will have to start again. Because of this you do need to take care frying the onions and garlic, sweat them slowly over a low to medium heat for six minutes or so and watch over them regularly stirring. This may sound over the top but this is an important step that “make or break” the tomato sauce.
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Add the remaining ingredients
Once the onion and garlic are nice and soft it is simply a case of adding the rest of the ingredients and stirring it all in. If you use plum tomatoes I would suggest slicing them up and making them smaller, and I would also recommend adding the mixed herbs last. Unlike spice mixed herbs don’t need dry frying to release their flavours therefore you can add them at any stage.
With the tomatoes and herbs in the pan I then add a large squirt of tomato puree (to add more taste, depth and colour), a teaspoon of sugar (to sweeten it up a bit) and a healthy sprinkling of salt and pepper. As I have already mentioned, I don’t measure anything so I add a bit of everything, mix it in and then have a quick taste to see if I need to add a bit more of anything else.
Once you are happy with the taste of the sauce it is then time to warm it through. This sauce doesn’t need a lot of cooking however I find that leaving it on the hob for around fifteen minutes on a low heat allows the flavours to come out and the sauce to thicken up a little. You should not boil the sauce because, if you burn it, you will ruin it.
Once the sauce has had a chance to warm up on the hob for fifteen or so minutes it is time to remove it. Now then, you can use the sauce immediately after cooking, however I have found (by experience) that it is best to leave the sauce to cool down and then re-heat it for a few minutes before you are ready to use it. This method seems to enhance the taste of the sauce and thickens it up to give it more body and substance. This method obviously means you have to plan ahead and prepare the sauce before you are ready to use it, but that’s not such a chore is it?
The final dish
You can make a large batch of the sauce and freeze it if you want, which is great because there is always something in the freezer for a quick and easy meal for those times when you can’t be bothered or don’t have the time to cook. I always make sure I have at least one portion in the freezer and I have found that you can freeze it for several months before it suffers from freezer burn.
Even though you can freeze the tomato sauce I will try to make it fresh when I fancy a meal using the sauce, and I keep the portion in the freezer for emergency use only. Don’t get me wrong, the tomato sauce is tasty out of the freezer but it fresher and tastier if made just before use.
Protection when cooking
Cool butterfly design aprons
I have to admit that I am a messy cook therefore an apron is an essential bit of kit for me. Most cooking aprons are a bit boring and uninspiring, however it is possible to buy some cool cooking aprons, such as those below.