February 11, 2011

And it's magic

Wow. It occurs to me that I’ve been puttering around this last year telling you all about soup bones, prune cake and fried cauliflower without so much as nod to that which sustains us. Pasta. Or rather in this case, pasta sauce. Surely my Great Grandfather Chinni would disapprove. It is my understanding that his dinner was never, ever served without a side dish of pasta accompanying it.

In my family we differentiate between “Sauce” and “quick sauce”. Sauce with a capital “S” has the meatballs, the pork chops, the sausage and the salt pork. Nonna makes Sauce the way maestros conduct orchestras- it’s a production where things bubble, sizzle and reemerge as a harmonious symphony of taste. But quick sauce is different. One minute all you have are tomatoes, olive oil and garlic and before you can even bring the pasta water to a boil a sauce appears as if by magic.

The very first time I tried making a quick sauce I failed miserably. I added all sorts of things that I thought were supposed to be in sauce like oregano, onion, and red wine. And those things do sometimes go in sauce but for goodness sakes one should never just throw them all into the pot, give them a stir and wait for a miracle. It was a very foolish thing to do.

I now know better. Nonna taught me that the most important thing to remember when making quick sauce is that you should always be able to taste the individual ingredients. It doesn’t need much fuss; all that’s required is the right touch.

I rely on quick sauce the way some people rely on boxed macaroni and cheese.  It’s my go-to meal when I have late classes, am unmotivated to “create” or if I just need some cheering up. It will indeed make you feel happy like an old time movie.

Quick Sauce

This recipe is a great foundation to build from. Nonna sometimes adds some of her pesto and toasted pine nuts. I like to add a few dollops of creamy ricotta and fresh basil to the pasta before tossing.

A couple of things to note before we go on. First, Nonna will tell you to always use whole peeled tomatoes (even if a recipe calls for the other) and crush them yourself. The reason being that crushed tomatoes are usually picked too early and aren’t as sweet. Second, I prefer this sauce with long pasta or ravioli preferably homemade, but it goes wonderfully with any shaped pasta you favor homemade or not.

2  28 OZ cans whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 6 OZ can tomato paste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, roughly 5 TBLSP
4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
Kosher salt to taste
Pepper to taste
2 sprigs of fresh basil
Good quality Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated for serving
1 lb of your favorite pasta

In a large bowl, using your hands crush the tomatoes. I like to leave them a little chunky but you might prefer a more pureed consistency. You can break them down further while they cook with the back of your spoon.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic cloves. Brown the garlic until they are lightly golden on all sides then push off to the side so they are not directly on the heat.

Add the tomato paste and let it caramelize for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning.

Add the crushed tomatoes, stir and let simmer for about twenty minutes stirring occasionally.

Add the basil, salt and pepper and let simmer for another five minutes. At this point you can remove the garlic cloves or do what I do- leave them in but warn the husband.

For the pasta, bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water generously. Add the pasta, cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta and toss it with sauce and cheese directly.


  1. Yum! We differentiate the same way in my family. Quick sauce similar to yours and "The Sauce," which is my grandfather's with all the meaty goodness. This made me smile, and now I have to make it tonight :)

  2. Elizabeth, isn't it great to be Italian? I'm planning on making The Sauce in a few weeks...there's nothing like a good meatball.

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