Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Classic Tomato Sauce: Pasta for Winter

Rigatoni with Classic Tomato Sauce
Classic Sauce Changed up with Rigatoni

Recipe from Bruce's family


This dish has been part of American cuisine for generations. It was born into American culture in an era when stores stocked few non-local ingredients, especially in winter. Onion, green bell pepper, tomato paste and tomato sauce have been available year-round in most of the US since the 1950s. Bruce’s family cooked this particular recipe, and my mom made a similar one.


Pasta with tomato sauce is a dream meal for the busy families. It’s inexpensive and can be extended almost indefinitely with extra spaghetti and cans of sauce. It’s easy to cook and practically impossible to ruin. A super-comfort food, it’s filling and toothsome. Leftovers taste even better the next day, or they can be frozen for quick meals later.

Tomato Sauce Being Stirred into Veggies
Adding Sauce to Tomato-Pasted Sauteed Veggies
The traditional vehicle for this sauce is enriched white spaghetti. These days more healthy choices include organic whole grain spaghetti and low calorie low carb Miracle Noodles. Last night we skipped the pasta and enjoyed it with a wholegrain baguette that we had left over from our French onion soup. Change up leftovers with whole grain rotini or penne, which hold more sauce than spaghetti. Or for an all-vegetable option, try the sauce on spaghetti squash.

This super-versatile recipe can be altered in numerous ways. For example:
  • Add 1-2 tsp. sugar to soften the tomato’s acidity, like Mom did.
  • Add more wine, or none. Or use white wine.
  • Change the herbs or herb quantities.
  • Skip the basil in winter, unless you have a frozen stash from last summer.
  • For vegan sauce, saute 2-3 sliced carrots with onions and add 1-2 cups broccoli florets with tomato sauce. Or add mushrooms to onions and thinly sliced zucchini to sauce.
  • For vegetarian sauce, add cut-up veggie burgers or Morningstar’s veggie crumbles.
  • Add Bruce’s spicy homemade sausage or my herbed mini-meatballs, or browned ground meat.
  • Make up your own variations.

This sauce is quite thick, so feel free to add an extra can of sauce to make more servings. A classic accompaniment is green salad.

Plate of Miracle Noodles with Tomato Sauce
Classic Tomato Sauce with Sausage & Miracle Noodles
Classic Tomato Sauce with Pasta
serves about 6

1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 3 large yellow or red onions
2 medium green bell peppers
4 large cloves garlic
¼ cup dry red wine
6 oz. can tomato paste
2 – 28 oz cans chunky tomato sauce
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried marjoram
2 – 3 tsp fresh or frozen basil
Pasta of your choice, or Italian style bread

Cut onions and bell peppers into large dice, about ½” – ¾”. You will have about 2 cups of bell pepper and 3 – 4 cups onions. Peel and mince garlic.

If you’re making meat for the sauce, you can use the same frying pan after cooking the meat. Turn heat to medium (325 – 350 degrees F in electric frying pan) and add olive oil, onion, and bell pepper. Saute about 5 minutes, until onions are golden. Add minced garlic and cook until fragrant, another minute or so, while stirring constantly.

Pour in wine and deglaze, stirring up browned bits from bottom of pan. Stir in tomato paste till evenly distributed. Then stir in tomato sauce, oregano, and marjoram. Add meat or meat substitute, if using, and stir till coated with sauce.

Bring to boil, stir, and cover. Lower heat to slow simmer, about 250 - 275 degrees F. Allow to simmer for at least ½ hour, and up to 2 hours. Add the basil during the last 5 minutes of cooking.

If you’re eating this with pasta, check the directions while the sauce is simmering and prepare the pasta at the appropriate time.

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