We eats lots of pasta with sauce. It's been a family dinner staple for ever. And I know we are not alone. According to the National Pasta Association, Americans consume about 29 pounds of pasta per person per year. I'm betting that a large percentage of that is eaten with sauce. Commercially-prepared tomato sauce is generally pretty inexpensive. I found that it ranges from $2.29 for a jar of Ragu to as much as $4.15 for one from Paul Servino Foods. Barilla, a brand I like, was recently on sale at $3.00 for two jars. The ingredients are fairly straight-forward, though quite a few are made with soy bean oil and dehydrated onions, garlic and herbs. I prefer olive oil and fresh herbs. Another problem is that the salt content can be quite high.
Even though commercial sauce can be a bargain, I like to make my own. It just tastes so much better. And in the summer months, when I use home-grown onions and parsley, along with fresh tomatoes from the garden, I know that the cost is pennies. In the winter, I use jars of home-canned tomato sauce that we "put up" at a big gathering of my brother-in-law's family over Labor Day weekend. The tomatoes are from local growers in New Jersey. I feel good about supporting area farmers and I know that the transportation distances for the tomatoes are relatively low. I know exactly what is in the sauce - tomatoes and home-grown basil, nothing more - and I can re-use, not just recyle, the jars and ring lids (the flat lid get recycled as it can not be used more than once for safety reasons).
Here is my recipe for home-made tomato sauce:
2 tbs. olive oil
1 med. onion chopped
1 (or more depending on your preference) garlic clove(s) pressed or chopped fine
1 qt. tomato sauce (just tomatoes, maybe with a basil leaf or two)
1-2 tbs. tomato paste (I used the kind in a squeeze tube - less waste than the small cans because you only squeeze out the amount you need; with the cans, there always seems to be a bit left in a can that disappears in the back of the fridge only to grow mold)
handful chopped parsley
handful chopped basil
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp (or to taste) red pepper flakes
freshly-grated Locatellli cheese (about a half cup)
Saute the chopped onion in the olive oil until soft and transluscent. Add the garlic and saute until it, too, is soft, being careful not to let it overcook. Add the tomato sauce, paste and basil to the onions and garlic; season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste and simmer on low heat until the sauce thickens. Just before serving stir in the cheese and parsley.
Of course you can add meat to the sauce - pancetta, bacon, ground beef, sausage, leftover chicken or pork - but a simple tomato sauce is so satisfying on its own, it makes it easy, even a pleasure, to reduce your meat consumption.
The taste of pasta sauce made with home-canned tomato sauce can not be matched by anything store-bought. In future posts, we'll talk about growing tomatoes specifically for home canning, and about the canning process. In the meantime, mangia bene!