Back To Basics- Pasta Sauce

Michael Moss, author of “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” recently said in an article to the New York Times that “as a culture, we have lost the will but also the knowledge to make” many easy foods from scratch, specifically citing oatmeal and pasta sauce.  Basically, processed food has become so pervasive in our lives that we have literally forgotten as a culture how to cook basic things that were once second nature to us.  The troubling fact about this is that the food industry not only has us hooked with their addictive combinations of salt, sugar, and fat, but even if one wanted to stop eating processed foods, the idea of cooking from scratch presents a major knowledge barrier.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you likely know that most of my food knowledge is self-taught.  There are memories of food and family growing up, but little of them pertain to me being taught how to cook something for the necessity of living.  Processed food was a way of life for us.  If I wanted Fettuccine Alfredo, it came in a bag that I added to boiling milk and butter.  It only occurred to me that I could make my own Alfredo years later while living in France, where they don’t have the premade bags.  The same went for practically everything else I ate, and until I started trying to cut processed ingredients out of my diet, did I take a closer look at how I could make these items at home.

I put out a feeler on my Facebook Page to see what everyone else was experiencing.  Did they know how to make things like pasta sauce or oatmeal from scratch, but just didn’t because of time or convenience?  Or was it because of a real lack of knowledge?  Most of the comments seemed to reflect an interest in being taught these basic food items, so it seems as though Mr. Moss is right.

With that being said, I’m really excited to introduce a new feature on the site called “Back to Basics.”  I am going to work to teach everyone how to make basic food items easily at home, and if possible, under 5 minutes time.  It seems that convenience a major factor for turning to processed goods, so I want to make things quick for everyone.

Today we are tackling Pasta Sauce!  I love making my own pasta sauce.  It makes my house smell divine, but additionally, making it from scratch allows me to customize the flavors and thickness to my liking.  Plus, it goes unsaid that the homemade version tastes way better than anything from a jar.

I have two versions that I want to share with you.  One is the “Easy, 5 Minute Pasta Sauce” and the second is more delicately flavored sauce that is worth the 45 minutes takes to make, if you have it.  Both freeze well, so I encourage you to make a double batch, sealing the leftovers in plastic baggies for future use.  I fill individual baggies with a cup of sauce, so they are each the perfect serving size for two, meaning I don’t have to defrost all the sauce to use some of it.  If you lay the baggies flat when they freeze, you can literally ‘file’ them like folders in your freezer.  That really helps to save on space.

I’m gonna break down the recipes here for you, but first is a basic overview of some things.  Don’t feel intimidated, because pasta sauce is super easy to make, I just want to give you all your options for once you get advanced or start experimenting.  You will also notice a bit of freeness with ingredient lists as well.  That is because these items allow for some improvisation and will eventually become second nature where you don’t have to measure things out…

First things first, fresh is always best, so don’t use canned garlic or dried herbs if you don’t have to.  However, with the tomatoes, unless you have the time and amazing, summer ripened tomatoes on hand, go with the canned.  If you want to get really fancy, pick a brand that is from Italy so you know you’re getting a quality product.

Depending on how you like your sauce, Crushed Tomatoes will give you a smooth, liquidly sauce, while Diced Tomatoes will be chunkier.  If you are using real tomatoes, you can dice your tomatoes to cook them, and then blend the sauce in the blender afterwards to get a smooth consistency if you want.

With real tomatoes, you will need about 3 cups of chopped tomatoes to be around the 28 oz. of the can.  Also, you will need to decide if tomato skins bother you.  I personally like them since they add to the chunky feel, but if you don’t, you might want to skin them.

Easy 5 Minute Pasta Sauce

Olive Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic, minced
1 28 oz. Can of Crushed or Diced Tomatoes
Handful of Fresh Basil Leaves

Heat a dash (1 Tablespoon) of Olive Oil in a large saucepot over medium heat.  Add the Garlic to the Oil, letting it simmer.  Once browned, empty the can of tomatoes into the pot.  Heat the Tomatoes until they start to bubble, and then turn the temperature down to medium low.  Using your hands, tear the Basil Leaves into small strips or pieces, tossing them in with the Tomatoes.  Add some Salt and Pepper to taste.  Serve or cool to freeze.

Vegetable and Mint Sauce

Olive Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic, minced
½ a White Onion, diced
1 Carrot, peeled and diced
1 Stick of Celery, diced
1 28 oz. Can of Crushed or Diced Tomatoes
Small Handful of Fresh Mint Leaves (10 leaves)

Heat a dash (1 Tablespoon) of Olive Oil in a large saucepot over medium heat.  Add the Garlic, Onion, Carrot, and Celery to the Oil, letting it simmer, stirring occasionally.  Once the Onion is translucent and soft, empty the can of tomatoes into the pot and toss in the Mint.  Heat the Tomatoes until they start to bubble, and then turn the temperature down to medium low, cooking the sauce for 30 minutes.  Add some Salt and Pepper to taste.  Using a blender, blend the sauce until smooth (be careful with the hot sauce!).  Serve or cool to freeze.

I hope you enjoy and get much use out of these two recipes!  The first sauce you can make in the time it takes your pasta to cook.  The second one takes a bit more time, but is worth the effort.  If you don’t like the flavor of mint (you’re not alone, Roark doesn’t like it), feel free to substitute with Basil or Parsley.

I’d love to hear in the comments if you try making the sauce or what other food staples you want to learn how to make from scratch.  I’m thinking for the next edition, I will do salad dressings, so say tuned!

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2 Responses to Back To Basics- Pasta Sauce

  1. I remember that alfredo sauce you made in France and WOW! That was really some incredible sauce, but I think only made possible by the cheese we could find there.
    I love the idea of using some mint in the pasta sauce, I’ll have to try that. I’ve been lucky to have tons of rosemary growing where I live, so that always find its way into my sauces.

    • Aw, thanks! I’ve actually made it here as well. You just have to get the real Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy. I love rosemary! I just love the way my hands smell after using it. I’ve got a Skillet Potato recipe that I need to share with you- vegan and full of rosemary!

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