My tomato sauce journey began in November when I ordered a pasta dish at a restaurant in Montclair, New Jersey. I could barely carry on a conversation but to say, "This is good"... "oh, this is good"... "ummmm, this is so good!" I set out to recreate it in my own kitchen with only my taste buds to guide me. I think I have recaptured its flavor and come quite close to what I remember. I began with a homemade tomato sauce Internet search that led me to cooks.com where I chose a "Homemade Spaghetti/Pasta Sauce" recipe using a can of crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato paste, and a variety of seasonings. It looked promising until I read the recipe's final sentence. "Cook for at least 6 hours on low heat." Well, I knew that just wasn't going to happen since my spaghetti squash was already baking and I needed the sauce when it came out of the oven. What I gleaned from the cooks.com recipe were the seasonings... garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, dried basil, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
Next, I printed off a "Five Minute Tomato Sauce" recipe from Heidi Swanson's 101cookbooks blog and my daughter Lisa emailed me a recipe for "The Simplest Tomato Sauce Ever" from The Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Both of these recipes were encouraging in that they went together in minutes and the cooking time consisted of heating the sauce... that's it. Heat and eat. Let me preface my critique of Heidi's recipe by saying that I LOVE her recipes. They are consistently keepers and I am looking forward to the release of her new cookbook Super Natural Every Day which will be released on April 5, 2011. However, Dick and I felt Heidi's tomato sauce recipe was too spicy hot for our taste. I even reduced the crushed red pepper flakes to 1 tsp instead of 1 1/2 tsp and it was still too "water, water, I need water" hot. I took three things from her recipe... canned crushed tomatoes, like in the cooks.com recipe, olive oil, and optional heavy cream. In the recipe Lisa shared with me, butter was an ingredient which added a richness that I remember tasting in the restaurant dish. My recipe was now beginning to come together.
I decided to title my recipe "Homemade Heat and Eat Tomato Sauce" because the prep and cooking time is equivalent to opening a jar of Ragu... but don't. The next time I have the opportunity to eat at the Montclair, New Jersey restaurant, I will compare my tomato pasta sauce version with theirs to see how closely I have replicated it. Until then, I will contentedly use my recipe to serve atop spaghetti squash and pasta... plain and with meatballs or meat sauce.
Homemade Heat and Eat Tomato Pasta Sauce
1 tbsp olive oil or butter
3 medium cloves garlic, diced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (e.g. Muir Glen Organic)
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp Italian seasoning
¼ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp sea salt
pepper to taste
heavy cream, optional
Sauté minced garlic in olive oil for about a minute or so being careful not to brown the garlic. Add the remaining ingredients and heat to a gentle simmer. This takes just a couple minutes. Remove from the heat and eat. To make the sauce extra rich, stir in a splash of heavy cream.