My mother may have cooked a lot (ham and beans, cubed steak, pot roast, pork chops, lasagna, etc), but there's one thing she never made from scratch: tomato pasta sauce. Until I reached adulthood, I didn't even know normal people like you and me could make pasta sauce at home; I thought that was something you could only learn from your grandmother -- the kind that hailed straight from Italy. And my lineage doesn't go that far south in Europe.
One day I was complaining to my mother-in-law that I was having trouble finding plain marinara sauce, something that tasted good over tortellini without adding ground beef like I did for spaghetti (regular jarred spaghetti sauce tasted too acidic, too tomato-y). Just like that, she pulled out a recipe for marinara sauce. How could this be? Tomato sauce had been a mystery to me, a jarred wonder, an untouchable blend of tomatoes and herbs. Wait a minute: it's just a blend of tomatoes and herbs?? The realization sunk in deep, and I knew I had been a complete idiot, but Of course, by now I was feeling a little silly to think that I couldn't make tomato sauce at home, but we'll just leave the rest of my naivety out of this story to save me from added embarrassment.
So this is the recipe my mother-in-law gave to me, although I've added a tiny bit of sugar and a bit more salt. Her recipe also specified fresh basil, but all I had was dried. This sauce tastes great alone on pasta or chicken Parmesan or add some ground beef for a fabulous spaghetti sauce. I was pleasantly surprised with the finished product: it looked and tasted like a fine sauce from an Italian restaurant all from my kitchen in less than half an hour. You can also make a double batch, one for now and one for the freezer.
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, with juice
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook 1 minute longer, until garlic is fragrant and tomato paste begins to brown.
2. Pour canned tomatoes, basil, salt and sugar into saucepan. With the back of a spoon, break tomatoes up into small pieces. Bring to a low simmer. Turn heat down to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.