Oh, pasta with homemade sauce! What could be better! Now, I’d love to show you a beautiful photo of the bright red tomatoes I picked from my garden, their scarlet juices oozing out as I cut into them, the basil from which I plucked a few leaves for garnish. But – I live in the city. I don’t have so much as a square foot of outdoor space, let alone a garden. As for growing basil indoors, let’s be honest and admit that no more basil needs to be sacrificed in my fatal window boxing attempts. Thankfully, none of this means I can’t treat myself to a lovely pasta dinner.
The concept working for the marinara sauce is #34: Not All Herbs are for Cooking. It’s useful to recognize the difference between hearty herbs and delicate herbs. Hearty herbs are strong and woody and can stand up to long cooking times in soups and stews – think of rosemary and sage and oregano. Delicate herbs, on the other hand, are leafy and the stems are edible – think of mint, parsley, and dill. These herbs are frequently used raw to finish dishes, as their flavor compounds are volatile and lost during cooking or drying. For this sauce, raw basil is added at the last moment, just before serving.
I halved the original recipe and had enough for four servings of pasta. The measurements I used are below.
Empty one 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes into a strainer set over a large bowl. Whole tomatoes are important here because they are less processed and hold their shape better than crushed or diced tomatoes. Split open the tomatoes with your hands and remove the seeds and cores as best you can. Let them continue to drain any excess liquid. Set aside a heaping ¼ cup tomatoes and 1¼ cup of the juice.
Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add ½ an onion, chopped. Cook until the onion is softened and beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add 1 minced garlic clove and ¼ teaspoon dried oregano and cook about 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
Now add your strained tomatoes and increase the heat to medium-high. You’re going to caramelize the tomatoes to create fond, then deglaze the pan for added depth of flavor. Cook the tomatoes until their liquid has evaporated and they begin to stick to the pan, about 10-12 minutes. Then add 3 tablespoons dry red wine (I used 90+ French Fusion because it was on sale and I’ve learned I like French reds, but use whichever wine you’d like to drink) and cook it down until the liquids have gotten thick, about 1 minute. Add the 1¼ cup reserved tomato juice, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits. Simmer the mixture until the sauce is thick, another 8-10 minutes.
Put the sauce in a food processor and pulse until it’s slightly chunky. (Process less for a chunkier sauce, more for a smoother sauce.) Return the sauce to the skillet, add 1½ tablespoons chopped fresh basil, and salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. I like a mildly sweet sauce, so ½ teaspoon sugar worked for me – the amount of sugar you use will depend on the acidity of your tomatoes and your own preferences.
I had bought some cheese tortellini earlier that day and cooked that up with the sauce, along with some pieces of hot Italian turkey sausage. With a glass of the French red on the side, it made for a lovely Sunday dinner.
I used up all of the sauce I made for dinners throughout the rest of the week. I don’t can, but if you did you could make a huge batch of this and store it for future use. If you don’t, you could still make multiple batches and freeze them to have homemade sauce on hand. Not only is the taste better than what you can find out of the jar, but there’s just something wonderful about eating a tomato sauce you made fresh in your own kitchen. The sense of accomplishment is delicious.