Pantry Spaghetti Sauce

Nope, I didn’t take this one. But this is what it looks like, minus the herbs on top. Unless you’ve got those, in which case, go ahead.

Have you ever taken in the sheer variation of tomatoes available in cans? This recipe is a great opportunity to use a whole bunch of them. I like to let this simmer all day, so that the dry spices have plenty of time to release flavor into the sauce. It’s a lesson in patience and the value of time in cooking. Let’s begin.

You need at least one can of tomato paste, one can of tomato puree, and one can of diced tomatoes. I like to add another can of paste, because I like thick sauce, but you can do you, and use what you have. Get a deep pot with a fitted lid. Turn on the heat to a low-medium setting, and put in the tomato paste. You’re just going to cook it alone for a few minutes to let it brown a bit. Keep stirring so it doesn’t burn. What you accomplish with this is a complexity of flavor that’s lost when you can’t use fresh ingredients. Don’t skip this step. You’re in for the afternoon with this recipe, so settle in, turn on a good movie, and stir. (‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ is a personal favorite with a happy ending.)

When it has darkened a bit, add the puree and spices. You can get dehydrated onion and garlic, or garlic in a jar. Normally, I would find garlic in a jar objectionable, but this is not the time for that. It is good enough. Add these first. How much? Like so many of my recipes, it’s a matter of taste. I generally start with a teaspoon of the onion and half a teaspoon of garlic, then add more to taste. We’re going to be here all day. I don’t have to commit. You can either add an Italian blend, or use individual basil, thyme, and oregano. A little rosemary won’t go amiss, and marjoram is seriously adventurous. How much you need depends on the quality of your herbs and their age. Once everything is in, put the lid on, just slightly offset, and leave it. Come back to it every ten minutes or so, lift the lid, and stir. If it is really boiling, turn the heat down. You need a low simmer.

Give it at least two hours.

That’s what I said, and I meant it.

Be patient. More is better. Remember, we’re losing flavor in the processing of the food, and this is how we make up for that loss.

About half an hour before you’re serious about eating, taste it. Add more of whatever you need. Some people like a pinch of sugar, but leave it out if you can. There’s so much sugar in the American diet as it is.

Last thing is to aggressively drain the diced tomatoes and toss them in, just to get them hot. It’s just for texture. I don’t like a perfectly smooth sauce, and it is reminiscent of fresh tomatoes. These also come with herbs already in them, but if you use those, you may need to adjust flavors again. Which is fine.

Boil the pasta, and serve.

Leftover sauce can be frozen. I don’t like to have leftover pasta — I have yet to discover a way to store it that didn’t ruin the texture. It’ll keep, dry, in the box for a long time, so there’s no reason to cook more than you will eat on a given night.

Of course, if you have access to fresh stuff, it’s great to add. Diced onions and garlic can be browned, then removed, then added back after the tomato paste is browned. Fresh herbs go in at the end. If you want meat in your sauce, brown it and drain it before anything else is cooked. Otherwise, do what you can, where you are, with what you have.

Look after each other, and eat well.

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