sometimes, sauce happens

I remain firmly convinced that true quality is shown in simplicity. For instance, pad si ew is a dead simple thai dish, so it's my litmus test at new restaurants. I know what I expect and can gauge my assessment from there. Alternately, at some italian joint I've never been, I'll order something that's, essentially, tomato sauce and pasta. I want to know how well they do that before I stray further afield.

At home, I cannot and will not be held to my own impossible standards. Yes, I know, your Sicilian Bu-Bah's  sauce, slow-cooked over out 16 days (or some shit), is the high-water mark. Really though, I come home from a 10-hour work day and I have some pasta and canned tomatoes in the cupboard. I want dinner, and I want it before 9pm. So here, is my impressionistic recipe for a quick, homemade tomato sauce from the most basic ingredients.

2 cloves garlic, minced.
1 small shallot, finely chopped. (if you have it)
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs chopped fresh basil, or, 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 tsp tomato paste
28oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
fresh ground black pepper

Garlic and olive oil.
You start here. The garlic is minced, and the olive oil is quality. For one, 28oz can of tomatoes, I'd say… 2 cloves and 2 tablespoons, respectively. If you have a small shallot, that works too. Heat the oil on very low and add the garlic (and shallot) and let warm slowly until it's good and fragrant (but don't let it start to crisp).

Have any fresh basil or thyme?
Both of these things are great, but not requisite. You can use dried. Or, if you lack basil entirely, try a mixture of dried rosemary and marjoram. Add them to the mixture for a minute or so, stirring it a couple of times.

Wine and spice tea.
Add the wine, tomato paste and salt then increase the heat, bringing it to a light boil. Let it steep for a just a few.

The rest.
Add tomatoes and remaining spices. Cover it and let it come to a boil. Once there, reduce the heat to a simmer and prop the lid to let the steam out. You want moisture to escape, allowing the sauce to thicken, but you don't want it bubbling and splattering all over your stove, right? After 10 minutes or so, if you see it starting to look less watery (you know, en route to sauce) start the water for your pasta.

I called this an impressionistic recipe, because (honestly) I do this pretty much by eye. Minus the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and salt, I don't sweat it too much if one thing or another is out of stock. I can make it work. from start to finish, this should take 30 minutes and could serve  up to 4 people.

Will it beat your Italian grandmother's sauce? Fuck no. But, it'll do, pig, it'll do. 


This is my first attempt at conveying a real recipe, instead of just tips. As recipes go, in practice, this is down and dirty and (mostly) improvised. So for this italian(ish) sauce I thought I would include a couple of songs by the thrash-jazz maestros from Italy, ZU.