Last week I shared some ways to make healthful choices at the grocery store when shopping for a spaghetti dinner. This time I share two of my favorite tomato sauces and tips on how to make them “one-pot meals”.
First, a couple of ingredient notes:
- The shopping tips from last week also apply to the most important ingredient shopping for the first recipe, the canned/boxed tomatoes you choose. Always look at the ingredient lists. Some brands add salt and sugar to their processed tomatoes and most treat the tomato pieces with citric or other acids. Treating them with acid helps the tomato pieces hold their shape and color so that they look pretty coming out of the can; holding their shape means that they will not break down into a thick sauce that coats your noodle of choice. I buy the Pomi brand diced tomatoes because they have exactly one ingredient: tomatoes. If you can’t find them the next best thing is to get canned tomatoes that are pureed instead of diced and have little or no added salt.
- I almost always use shallots, but they are not mandatory. This time of year I might sub in some local red spring onion, but you could carry on as if they aren’t in the recipe at all and it will still be yummy. You may need to add a tablespoon of sugar if your tomatoes are especially astringent. Or you can substitute any other kind of onion or even another aromatic like ginger.
- I’m not actually a big fan of the actual spaghetti noodle shape/diameter itself, so in the pictures you'll see I made the first sauce with bucatini and then cavatappi for the second. You may need a little extra water to thin the sauces enough to stick onto spaghetti if that is your noodle shape of choice.
My Anyday Tomato Sauce:
Saute diced or grated garlic and sliced shallots in a tablespoon or two of oil until the shallots are soft then add in a pinch of salt. The amount of shallots and garlic will depend on your taste and the length of time you have to simmer the sauce. If you have less time cut down on the garlic, if you prefer sweeter sauces use many shallots, say a third of a cup sliced, and saute until they start to take on a golden color.
Add a bundle of fresh herbs tied together with cooking twine or other untreated cotton string. The number and variety of herbs is all up to you. I have a lot of herbs in my backyard at the moment so there’s rosemary, thyme, pineapple sage, and parsley all in the bundle pictured. Delicate herbs like basil do not work well for simmering because they give up their aromatic compounds almost immediately and then get bitter. If you like basil save it for garnish.
Pour your tomatoes on top. Stir gently in small circles to incorporate the shallots without tearing the bundle of herbs apart.
Simmer for at least 20 minutes- the time it will take you to bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles- or up to an hour. The flavor will intensify the longer you simmer. If it gets too thick stir in some water. When you put the noodles into their cooking water, remove the herb bundle and stir in a tablespoon or two of red wine or balsamic vinegar.
Reserve some of the noodle’s cooking liquid either by dipping a measuring cup into the still boiling pot or by placing a glass measuring cup under your colander in the sink. The starch in the cooking water will help the sauce stick to your noodles and give a silky texture to the sauce itself.
Return the noodle pot to the stove and brown some sausage in the bottom if you want to have meat incorporated in the dish. Add half of the noodles, half of the sauce, fresh ground pepper or red pepper flakes and about ⅓ cup cooking liquid and toss together. Taste a noodle with the sauce to determine if you need to add more salt or any other seasonings, if it needs anything it will be salt, pepper, sugar or lemon juice/vinegar, but not too much of any of those things. Add the rest of the noodles and sauce then toss again. Add more cooking liquid if the sauce is too thick. Garnish with cheese and/or fresh herbs. The garnishes in the picture are ricotta, parmesan and basil.
Other notes on the recipe:
- As with last week, adding more veggies is always good. Add any roasted or blanched vegetable or green to the pot when you are mixing it all together. Capers or kalamata olives are also good for adding a bright briny-ness.
- You can make this a “one-pot meal” recipe and/or avoid tomato splattering all over your kitchen. Make the pasta first, shoot for the pasta to be just barely underdone because you will finish cooking it in the sauce. Be sure to reserve at least 1 cup of the cooking liquid and massage the noodles with olive oil in the colander so that they do not fuse into a solid block while you are making the sauce. If you are including meat then brown it in the pot, saute the shallots and garlic with the meat and they will not need extra oil. If you are not including meat saute as described above. Add tomatoes and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes. (Pro tip: Any pot deep enough to cook noodles in will keep your kitchen free of splatter so long as you keep an eye on it.) Add fresh herbs. Turn the heat down to low and slowly add the noodles to the sauce by the tongfull/spoonfull with a splash of the cooking liquid each time. When they are all in the pot again return the heat to medium for approximately 3 minutes to reheat the noodles and meld everything together.
My 'Sauce-less' Tomato Sauce:
The widespread availability of quality hothouse grape/cherry tomatoes gives the home cook more options than dumping canned or boxed tomatoes from who knows when and trying to add flavor back into them.
Preheat your oven to 400. Line a cookie sheet or oven pan with aluminum foil and turn the edges of the foil up at least ½ inch crimping them at the corners. The ideal is to be able to easily dump all the tomato juices onto the noodles and not need to scrub the pans.
Slice several pints of grape/cherry tomatoes in half (if they are large quarter them, but be sure to do so lengthwise so they will be able to cling to the noodles in the end). Place them in a bowl and gently stir in a tablespoon of olive oil, the juice of one lemon, salt, and optionally ground spices like a dash of nutmeg, and three dashes each of ground mustard, turmeric and paprika. Smoked paprika is especially good if you have some around since the ground spices are mostly lending an aromatic component to the dish.
Pour the tomatoes onto the foil prepared pan, spread into an even layer and put in the oven. Roast for 25-40 minutes. It will depend on your oven, the pan, and how many tomatoes you ended up having how long it takes. You will know they are done when they look almost dehydrated and the juices they released are just starting to burn on the foil. The oven has done all of the "sauce - making" work for you!
While the tomatoes are roasting bring water to a boil and cook your desired noodles. A fatter shape like linguini or fettuccine will give you more surface area for tomato bits to attach themselves to.
If you are into meat, saute some small cubes of pancetta or cut 4 slices of bacon into strips the short way (these strips are called lardons). When they have crisped put them aside on a plate lined with paper towels. Otherwise saute some onions or shallots.
Chop some fresh herbs and dice some garlic or throw together anything you have in the fridge. Pictured here I've put in spinach and baby turnips from my CSA (the noodles are under everything else there. Toss everything together. The tomatoes and their carmelized juices together with some of the noodle cooking liquid should suspend the noodles and extras to create a luxurious sweet sauce that yyou have to do practically nothing for. To garnish drizzle with balsamic vinegar and/or top with a grated or crumbly cheese.
One last thought:
IF tomatoes are in season (AKA not full-sized hot house tomatoes, they won't have the right texture for this). Fresh heirloom tomatoes grated (like cheese) into the pot of cooked noodles are basically all you need. They can be enhanced by melting a couple tablespoons of butter with ground mustard and red pepper flakes until fragrant and drizzling on top with fresh chopped basil and balsamic vinegar. For more nutrition add several handfuls of baby arugula to the pot of noodles in the last minute or two of cooking stir to combine throughout the pot then drain like normal.