Thursday, November 4, 2010

Penne in Tomato Sauce

I've never been able to buy bottled or canned spaghetti sauce--it's over- or under- spiced, too sweet, or so expensive for something that doesn't have to take very long to make with fresh ingredients.  If I'm in a real hurry, all I have to have are some form of cooked tomato, fresh garlic, and basil to make a lovely sauce.  Here's more or less the basic sauce at our house, that we improvise freely:

Tomato Sauce: 
makes 2-4 servings, depending on how much sauce you like on your pasta, and how much pasta makes a serving.  this would be enough for about 4 servings at our house, with a little left to mix into veggies another day.
  • 1 can pureed or diced organic tomatoes
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeld and diced small or run through a garlic press
  • 1 t each dried basil and oregano, or several teaspoons total of any combination of fresh basil, oregano, chives, marjoram, or thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/4-1/2 cup wine, preferably red (merlot is usually good, but in a pinch I've even used rice cooking wine and adjusted the salt)
  • 4 oz. chopped mushrooms, or a small can of mushrooms, drained
  • up to 1 t salt (taste the sauce first to see if it needs any salt at all)
  • 1 t sugar, if you taste the sauce and it seems harsh at all
  • 3 T good Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated (or just use the grated Parmesan if it's what's in the fridge--the flavor is different, but still works)
  • 1 lb meat (usually ground beef or chopped chicken breast in our house.  If you use the ground beef, you can cook it separately to minimize the fat ) - optional
  • Extra Virgin olive oil for sauteing and to drizzle over sauce
  • Penne pasta, cooked just al dente (reserve the cooking water separated from the pasta in case the sauce is runny), enough for each serving (since a serving can be anything from 1/2 cup cooked pasta in a weight-watching household to a full cup or more per person in a munchie household, it's hard to say how much pasta to have here).
 Pour 1 T olive oil into a saucepan and add the onion and red pepper.  Saute on medium for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic.  Cook an additional 1 minute, then the ground beef or chicken if using, and cook another minute or two.  Add the tomato, red wine and dried spices, if using and simmer about 10 minutes.  Add any vegetables you want (see below) including the mushrooms, the sugar (if needed) and salt, and simmer another 20 minutes, uncovered.  Add the fresh spices if you are using them.  If the sauce seems too thin, add a ladle-full of the starchy pasta cooking water and simmer another 10 minutes.  Mix in the cooked pasta, and cook another 5 minutes. Sprinkle with grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, and serve.

Optional add-ins: plan on thickening the sauce with the pasta water, or a little extra grated cheese if you use any raw veggies in the recipe. If the sauce just won't thicken (it's happened to me), mix 1 T of rice flour or cornstarch to 1/4 cup water, and add to the sauce to thicken.

  • 1-2 handfuls fresh chopped spinach
  • 1 cup cooked greens of any kind, squeezed dry and chopped
  • 1 cup chopped broccoli or cauliflower
  • 1/2-1 cooked zucchini or yellow squash, cut small if necessary
  • 1-2 raw tomatoes, cut small
  • a handful of pitted olives, chopped
Other additions:
  • Grated mozzerella, crumbled feta or other cheese
  •  chopped beef or turkey bacon--cook bacon first, then drain almost all fat and begin recipe as usual

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