Pasta of any description will always have priority on the pecking order of what I consider ordering when I eat out, sitting just below the humble burger but several places above the quiche lorraine. Few things in life can compare to the satisfaction of leaning back in your chair after enjoying a fulfilling meal of carbonara. But by far, the best thing about cooking pasta sauce yourself is that it was designed to be made for large families with less than half a dozen ingredients. So, here are the basics to making a great pasta sauce, as well as a few additions you can make when you have a little money leftover from your weekly expenses. This recipe will make 6-8 portions with pasta, and can be frozen for use later on.
Ingredients – The Basics
- 1 medium onion
- 1 heaped tablespoon of garlic
- Cooking oil
- All the chefs use extra virgin olive oil, but we’re not cooking for a Michelin star here. Use whatever oil you have on hand
- 2 cans of diced tomatoes
- 1 jar of tomato passata
- It’s up to you what combination of tomato based products you use. The total amount should equal about 1.5 litres, so you could use two jars of passata for a really smooth sauce, or four or five cans of tomatoes if you want something really chunky. Whatever you do, don’t use tomato paste. I know they all say tomato on the label, just trust me.
- 1 tbsp red wine
- Don’t bother with buying any special kind of cooking wine. You’re just wasting your money. A good splash of any red wine you have lying around will do, even if it’s from a goon bag. Alternatively, you can save the wine for drinking and use balsamic vinegar instead. Your call
- I find less is more. A good handful of basil leaves will do as a bare minimum. If you have the money, you could buy a few sprigs of thyme, or even rosemary. Or, you could use a catch-all substitute.
- Dice an onion. Put a large saucepan on a medium heat and add enough oil to coat the base with a little excess, or roughly 3 tablespoons. Add the onions and garlic and stir until the onions change colour and the garlic is fragrant.
- Add your diced tomatoes and passata. Add a small amount of water to each can/jar and swirl it around to collect any residual liquid before pouring it into the pan.
- Season your sauce with the salt, pepper, red wine and herbs. It’s important to continually taste the sauce to maintain a balance of flavours. Remember that you can’t remove something from a sauce once you add it.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer to reduce the amount of water in your sauce. The longer your sauce cooks, the better the flavour. But not everybody has all day to cook pasta, so a total cooking time of about half an hour should be sufficient.
This is just a basic template for a good tomato sauce. Tweak it as necessary for your ingredients and utensils. Gordon Ramsay has some instructional videos on basic cooking skills like dicing an onion and chopping fresh herbs. Here are some things you can add to your sauce to make it tastier, healthier, and help you clean out the fridge before the food goes bad.
- The versatility of pasta means you can any kind of meat into your dish, from sausages to prosciutto. When adding meat to your sauce, make sure it’s cut according to how you want to eat it and add it after the onions have changed colour, adding the tomatoes once your meat is sufficiently browned. I prefer to use diced bacon for the flavour you get from the rendered fat, or a kilo of beef mince when I’m making a bolognese. The important thing to remember is that each serving should have roughly 100 grams of protein as a part of a balanced meal.
- There are a few vegetables that work best with this tomato sauce. As a rule of thumb, you want to avoid adding greens to your sauce unless you have a hankering for things like spinach, which should be added at the end so it can wilt and leave out unnecessary water which can leave a sharper taste in your mouth than you would like. Carrots, sweet potatoes and red capsicums are great for adding a natural sweetness without directly adding sugar to your sauce. If you’re using mince in your sauce, or just want a smoother end product instead of an old fashioned, chunky sauce, you can finely grate your vegetables so they blend into the meat and tomatoes almost seamlessly.
- Having already covered what kind of herbs work well with a tomato sauce, I thought I might divulge the additional spices I use when I wanna take my dinner up a notch. Nutmeg and paprika often make an appearance, sometimes alongside a half teaspoon of cumin. If you’re looking for a bit of heat in your sauce, you could even swap paprika for cayenne pepper. All of this, of course, is in regard to your own tastes and preferences. Please note that nutmeg is toxic in sufficiently large doses, specifically two or three teaspoons, so use it sparingly, if at all. You have been warned.