We are not fans of jarred pasta sauce. Let's face it- the inevitable dilemma is to go cheap and flavorless, or expensive and half-decent. It's criminal. Disappointed and frustrated by our finds, and longing for something more flavorful, we turned to the kitchen for results.
My first thought was for a family recipe. Unfortunately, my Italian Grandmother is far from the stereotypical master cook, and her "secret" recipe involved doctoring up a jar of ragu with some sausage. There went that thought.
Our next try was a disastrous concoction Ryan made early in our dating lives. He was a bit heavy-handed with the salt- and then, worse, the sugar. It pretty much was a do-over, with painful lessons learned. A later recipe we found in Cooks Illustrated proved tasty and developed a darker flavor than a traditional sauce- and also a chunky consistency that is great with a larger noodle- but is a lot of work over a stove, and not ideal for weekly meals, or for freezing.
Finally, a friend of mine taught me her family's sauce- a simple, clean recipe that could simmer with relatively little intervention, and was ideal for making in large batches and freezing. This is the recipe I'm happy to share with you now, with a few of my own flavor tweaks tossed in. One batch will sauce 4 boxes of pasta, and keeps really well in the freezer.
Good ol' italian "gravy":
2 28-oz cans of peeled tomatoes
(Use san marzano or other imported tomatoes for best quality- I like La Squisita)
2 28-oz cans of crushed or pureed tomatoes
2 healthy handfuls of fresh chopped basil
1 healthy handful of fresh chopped parsely
1 handful of dried of fresh oregano
Dashes of marjoram, thyme, and rosemary
3 garlic coves peeled & minced
up to 1/2 can of water
splash of wine
sea salt & pepper
Pecorino & Parmeggiano cheese to grate on top
1. Coat bottom of a sauce pot with olive oil. Add garlic and saute, then add in parsley to the oil. Allow garlic to brown.
2. Start pouring in the peeled tomatoes, stirring after each can. Once all 4 cans are in the pot, mix in the basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little bit of water to mixture to ease thickness.
3. Let simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste sauce after an hour of simmering, and adjust flavor as desired. If too tangy, mix in a pinch of sugar.
4. Continue to allow to simmer for up to another hour, or longer, for deeper flavors. Stir in a splash of a dry italian red, such as chianti, when you are close to serving.
5. Store remaining sauce for future uses!