Italian Tomato Sauce

Sauce

I am often asked for my recipe for tomato sauce which I always struggle with because when it comes to sauce, I don’t follow a recipe. When I first started making sauce over 20 years ago I asked my mom for her “recipe” and she gave me a bunch of vague measurements and ingredients to throw together and then…..”VOILA!!”………sauce! So I’ll now pass along my list of vague measurements and ingredients to throw together and hopefully you’ll end up with a delicious pot of sauce as well.

Really good, flavorful sauce develops in time so if you can, let it cook for hours on the stovetop. The longer, the better! If you can’t be home all day to babysit it, use your Crock-Pot! I’ll usually brown the sauce and onions first and then add everything to the Crock-Pot to cook. You can put the meat and onions in raw however, I don’t think you get the same depth of flavor as when you brown them first so I recommend not skipping this step. Taste your sauce periodically and adjust your seasonings as it cooks because there is nothing worse than bland tomato sauce. My favorite way to taste the sauce, and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, is to have a piece of “gravy bread“. Dip a slice of folded white bread in the sauce and enjoy! So yummy!!!…………….and very hard to eat just one slice!!

Try adding some red wine, make it with meat or without, let your meatballs cook in the sauce or don’t. There really is no one way to make sauce and depending on my mood and what’s in the house, my sauce will turn out a little different each time. My favorite way to make it though is with sausage meat and red wine. Cooking the onions and garlic in the sausage fat really adds so much flavor to the finished product as does a good, rich red wine. It’s also a great way to deglaze your pan! Fresh basil is the perfect finishing touch!

Use this “recipe” as a guide and don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients or adjust the amounts to suit your own tastes. Part of being a good cook is learning to become intuitive in the kitchen, following a recipe is great (and I do it often) but learning to cook using what you know about flavors and ingredients is a skill worth developing. Sauce is the perfect thing to practice on because most sins are easily correctable. So tap into your inner Italian and get cooking!!

Ingredients

  • 1 – 1.5 lbs sweet or hot Italian sausage with fennel, casings removed OR 1 – 1.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4-6 garlic gloves, smashed then minced
  • Red wine, about 1/4 – 1/3 of the bottle
  • 2 (28 oz) cans of crushed tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 tbs dried parsley
  • drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
  • handful of fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons

Instructions

In a large pot set over medium heat cook the sausage/ground beef until nicely browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onions to the fat and cook until slightly softened and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Pour in the wine and scrape up any browned meat bits and onion stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Add the meat back into the pot along with the crushed tomatoes, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and parsley. Drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil over the top. Cover and allow the sauce to simmer for at least 2 hours, longer if possible.

In the last few minutes before serving, toss in a nice handful of fresh basil and stir.

**Tip – I like to freeze cleaned fresh basil leaves in a Ziploc bag so that I always have fresh basil on hand. When you need some for a recipe just grab a frozen handful and crumble it right into your dish**

Make Your Own Fresh Basil Pesto

basilpesto

There is nothing more “summery” than a fresh basil pesto. Just one whiff of a fresh basil leaf immediately brings to mind long, warm, summer days and evening meals out in the yard. Pesto is the perfect summer dinner accompaniment because it is so versatile. Its light, flavorful taste is great mixed with pasta, cold or hot, and it’s even delicious spread on a slice of toasted Italian bread or used as a sandwich topping. You can also add a dollop to soups, use as a marinade for chicken, or even mix it into a homemade salad dressing. There are literally countless ways to use fresh basil pesto in your cooking.

When summer is in full swing and your basil plants are running rampant making a basil pesto is the perfect way to use up some of those beautiful basil leaves. Make a big batch of pesto and store it either in the fridge or in the freezer so you’ll always have some on hand and ready to go. Homemade pesto will keep in the fridge for about 5-7 days and in the freezer for up to 9 months. When freezing pesto in an airtight container, be sure to pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top before sealing. Doing this will help to prevent browning as it freezes and keep the pesto looking green and fresh when thawed .

Another little tip for keeping your pesto bright and green is to blanch the leaves before making the pesto. To blanch, simply dip the leaves into boiling water for a second or two and then submerge them into ice cold water. This will “set” the color and keep your pesto nice and vibrant even after running it through the food processor.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves, cleaned and stems snipped
  • 2/3 cup of toasted pine nuts
  • 2/3 grated Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Instructions

In a food processor combine all of the ingredients and process until smooth. Scrape down the bowl as needed.