May 20, 2010

Spicy and Sweet Homemade Pasta Sauce

A favorite memory of growing up is actually an aroma... the sweet, slightly tangy smell of long and slow simmering tomato sauce. On pasta night, Thursday nights, my mom would stand at the stove preparing a number of ingredients that remained a mystery to me at that age. Then she'd ask me to stir it occasionally to keep it from burning while she went out for her afternoon walk.

I loved the smell of that sauce, for it's simplicity and comfort, as well as for its complexities I still aim to recreate. Although I can't re-live my childhood, I have to admit that when I now make my own homemade pasta sauce, I have an ulterior motive: to fill my apartment with the equally enticing smells that wafted from my mother's pot and filled our Connecticut home. I admit to taking the dog out as my sauce cooks simply so I can enter again, inhaling deeply, testing my own ability to reproduce a smell as delicious and inviting as that from years ago... Who knows, maybe someday my children will feel the same about this sauce as I do about the one that brought our Italian family around the table for yet another Thursday night dinner together.

Spicy and Sweet Pasta Sauce
2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 medium to large white or Spanish onion
4 cloves garlic
2 T olive oil
1 to 2 T red pepper flakes
2T sugar or 3 T. grape jam (mom would cringe, we never kept grape jam!)
fresh chopped or dried basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper to taste
*optional, reserved pasta cooking water to thin

In a large saucepan, set the olive oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and garlic. Add the onion to the saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon. Allow to cook until golden and soft, approx. 6 minutes. Turn the heat down slightly. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, about two more minutes. Next, add the tomato paste and stir to coat the onion and garlic. Add both cans of crushed tomatoes, the sugar or jam, crushed red pepper, and Italian seasonings. Simmer on low for as long as desired, partly uncovered. Salt to taste. If desired, thin the sauce out with a little bit of cooking water from the pasta. The starches in the water bring flavor to the sauce without diluting it.

The crushed tomatoes that are used in this recipe make for a fabulous combination of both chunky and smooth sauce that truly sticks to every bite. However, if you hate chunks, feel free to use tomato puree. Then, if you're my mother or me, load twice as much sauce onto your plate as you have pasta and enjoy!

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