When I cook, I almost always like to ‘freestyle’ – using what I have on hand to modify recipes and try out new flavour combinations (I don’t, however, rap… sorry to disappoint you). Many people, including the other half of the FoodBunch, really like to cling to recipes – but I would encourage everyone to give freestyling a shot. In my mind, THE easiest way to step slightly outside of the box while keeping a feeling of comfort is by making tomato sauce.
As students, our schedules can be hectic, and having something as versatile as tomato sauce on hand all the time is key to keeping us well fed without resorting to unhealthy options. Don’t believe me? Let me show you a basic recipe that you can switch up and completely change the flavour of every single time you make it.
Infinitely Variable Tomato Sauce:
What you’ll need (always):
1 Onion, diced (I usually use yellow or sweet onions)
1-2 cloves of Garlic (I like to grate them usually)
2 29oz cans of tomatoes (crushed, diced, whole, whatever you like – I like the unsalted ones)
Flavourful liquid (broth, wine, vinegar, if you like the taste, it will work!)
Salt and Pepper
Other stuff you might want:
Other vegetables, also diced (carrots, celery and peppers are the usual suspects, but olives, zucchini, squash, anything!)
– make a pile about the same size as the onions
Meat (200-400g of ground beef, turkey, chicken, sausage, etc.)
Mushrooms, sliced, chopped or quartered (any kind and amount)
Herbs & Spices (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, sage, bay leaf, allspice come to mind)
– Yes, the sweet spices DO work. In fact, that flavour you can’t quite put your finger on at your favorite italian restaurant? Probably nutmeg. Seriously.
What you’ll do:
In a big, heavy pot, heat up enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot over medium-high heat. (If you’re making a meat sauce, you’ll want to brown the meat now, remove it from the pot, and set it aside). Add the vegetables to the pot, and sautée until they’re soft (but NOT browned!). Then, add the grated garlic (and mushrooms if using), and cook for an additional minute or two. Now, its time to add your flavourful liquid – the idea is to deglaze the bottom of the pot, and then reduce the remaining liquid down a bit. Usually, this is about 250mls of liquid, but use your judgment. Once you’ve reduced things down for five minutes or so, add the tomatoes.
Stir up the works, add your herbs and spices, and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Now, reduce the heat, and simmer the sauce for at least 30 mins, preferably an hour or so. Taste along the way to make sure it’s properly seasoned! Afterwards, if your sauce is quite acidic, you can add a bit of honey to even things out, and feel free to add some water if it’s thicker than you’d like.
If desired, you can blend up the sauce too – personally, I like to blend it up a little bit.
Now, you’ve got a ton of sauce on your hands, and it will keep in the fridge all week long – perfect for pasta, baking onto meat, making into soup, the possibilities are endless!
Now, I know some of you are scared by the thought of being creative in the kitchen. So, here are a couple basic ideas to get you going:
Classic tomato basil:
- carrots, celery
- white wine (dry)
- basil, oregano, a HINT of nutmeg
- crushed tomatoes
- italian sausage
- red wine
- diced tomatoes
I literally make tomato sauce once a week, and I try to change it up every time. Of course, sometimes things work out better than others, but it’s always interesting discovering new combinations! What are your favorite tomato sauce ingredients? Leave a comment and let us know!