It’s the small details that make a long day worth it: your favorite song coming on the radio during your morning commute, a crisp glass of wine with friends after work, 30 spare minutes to read that book you’ve just started. Or maybe it’s the smell of something delicious wafting from the kitchen.
For me, it’s usually the food.
I’m not Italian, and this is no closely guarded family recipe (I’m picturing Sofia from the Golden Girls menacing me with her rolling pin). It’s merely the product of a plucky mother and her desire to use up whatever was in the pantry. Lasagna and spaghetti were staples in our house because many of the ingredients could be stored for months at a time and could feed an army (which my family was). And since lasagna was my favorite meal and always served with butterdips–a greasy, garlicky, bready side my dad specializes in–I knew on nights that I smelled red sauce I was going to be eating well.
Since I’m an adult (kind of) and no longer live with my parents (for now), I have to create my own sauce and fake that moment of opening the door to the smell of red sauce floating through the air and grabbing me by the nose. A walk back from checking the mail will usually do it.
Additionally I’ve augmented my mom’s version since I don’t have the tiny budget or the multiple mouths to feed. However, if all you have are canned goods, dried herbs, and a yellow onion, you can opt for thrifty and use those instead. Time is really the key factor here. Don’t rush this sauce, and it will reward you with a richly developed and layered flavor.
- 2 medium yellow onions, diced
- 2 ripe tomatoes, diced (or 3 roma tomatoes) (optional)
- 3-6 cloves of garlic, depending on preference, minced (at least 3 tbsp)
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- ½ bottle Italian red wine, or something similarly full-bodied
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp dried parsley
- 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 1 can tomato paste
- 1 15 oz can tomato sauce
- 1 15 oz can stewed Italian tomatoes
- 1 15 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes (double if not using fresh)
- 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tbsp julienned basil
- 1 tbsp thyme leaves
- 1 tsp minced parsley
- Kosher salt to taste
- Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and allow to soften for 5 minutes. Once softened, add the fresh tomatoes and garlic. Cook these for an additional 5 minutes. (If you aren’t using fresh tomatoes, add the garlic and let it cook with the onions for 3 minutes).
- After the tomatoes have reduced in volume, add the balsamic vinegar and wine and cook until most of the wine has reduced. Add the dry seasonings to this mixture.
- Add the tomato paste and incorporate it fully before adding all of the canned tomato products. Bring to a low boil and taste. Salt and pepper at this point but sparingly as this sauce will simmer for some time and will develop flavor as it sits. Reduce heat to low and simmer sauce for at least an hour. If you have more time, simmer sauce for up to 3 hours. Before removing dutch oven from the heat, add fresh herbs and more salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve immediately with pasta or save for future use. Makes approximately 8 cups of sauce.