Let me start by saying that there is no such thing as spaghetti sauce. It’s a term of art and means too many different things to different people. Whatever sauce you put on spaghetti is, of course, spaghetti sauce. I think what most people, i.e. those not brought up in an Italian household, mean by spaghetti sauce is tomato sauce that can be used on not just spaghetti but other types of pasta as well. Even that title isn’t specific enough to cover the many variations of the use of tomatoes in the making of pasta sauce. So let’s be a bit more precise and talk about some the various kinds of sauce made with tomatoes.
I’ll start with the most basic – marinara sauce. Not all Italian tomato sauce is marinara sauce. This three ingredient sauce is simple enough to make on a small fishing boat, hence the name – mariner. It’s supposed to be fresh and simple so don’t feel something is missing because there are no herbs and spices to sprinkle in. Also it uses just one aromatic, garlic, so no onions.
Marinara sauce has multiple uses: delicious with pasta (we used to have this meatless sauce when we were kids on Friday nights when meat wasn’t an option), the perfect sauce for eggplant parmigiana, eggs in purgatory, etc.
Cut garlic in large pieces so they can easily be avoided or removed. Very lightly brown it in the olive oil. Add one large can (28 oz.) of crushed tomatoes (or about a pound and a half of cored and chopped fresh tomatoes). Add salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Simmer 1/2 hour on medium heat and it’s done. Maybe simmer a little longer if you’re using fresh tomatoes. It’s so simple and fresh tasting, you should try to keep it simple but if you must, a little cheese
The next step, using the basic marinara sauce above –
For Seafood Sauce – double ingredients. While sauce is simmering add some sliced filet (use something inexpensive like scrod rather than sole) to thicken it and about a teaspoon dried oregano. Ten minutes before it’s done you can add clams, mussels, shrimps, scallops, lobster tails, or any combination.
Another variation for Seafood Sauce – start with marina sauce. Add, in order for cooking time – clams, mussels, shrimp & scallops. Dissolve ½ teaspoon of saffron in a little warm water and add and simmer for a few minutes before serving. No oregano in this version.
Still another variation – Pasta All’Amatriciana Same as the marinara recipe above but start with browning about a ½ lb. of chopped pancetta and use an onion instead of garlic.
One that’s familiar to lots of people is what’s commonly known as Sunday Gravy. I can’t explain why it’s “gravy” and not sauce but that’s just the way it is and I accept that. SUNDAY GRAVEY
If you don’t have a few hours on a Sunday morning try this one – TOMATO BEEF SAUCE
Some other pasta sauces made with tomatoes from previous posts: RAW PUTTANESCA and SCUNGILLI WITH PERCIATELLI
This is just the beginning. Tomato sauce variations are almost limitless.
It’s more than acceptable to use canned if they are San Marzano and there are no other ingredients added to the can.
If you’d like to use fresh here are a few hints -To peel and seed fresh tomatoes,place the tomatoes in boiling water and wait until the outer thin skin cracks. Peel it with your fingers. Cut it on the equator and take each half, squeeze and shake out the seeds. Cut off the stem end and remove some of the core.
Since we’re talking about pasta sauce, here’re a few things to know about pasta:
- Use more water than you’d think you’d need – about 4 quarts for 1 pound of pasta.
- Add a lot of salt (it can only absorb so much), at least 2 tablespoons for 4 quarts of water.
- Try to have the pasta shape compliment the sauce.
- Cook until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen.
- It’s a good idea to reserve a cup cooking water in case you need to thin the sauce.
Use Parmigiana, Loccatelli, Romano or whatever you like but don’t use too much or think you can put it on everything because it can overpower a delicate dish. If you really want cheese, eat a piece of cheese. Instead of the hard grating cheeses, try dry ricotta salada sometime or maybe a tablespoon of fresh ricotta in your dish before you put in pasta with tomato sauce. Instead of any grated cheese at all, try toasted bread crumbs, especially on seafood sauces. Type of cheese can vary according to the sauce but NEVER, NEVER with sea food.
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