It really hurts my brain when people invite me over for dinner and they serve spaghetti with sauce straight out of a can. Why would you do that when it is so easy to make something a little more special?
My mother has been making spaghetti sauce from scratch for as long as I can remember, and it always, always tastes ten times better than anything I’ve ever gotten at a restaurant – or anywhere else, for that matter. I learned how to make it myself and have been modifying it ever since. I’m not a huge measurer when it comes to sauces, so it’s different every time. Feel free to use your own judgment in this.
So now, for the first time ever in print, a classic and easy spaghetti sauce I learned from my mother, who learned it from her mother. I’ll give you the quick and the slow versions, as well as the non-vegetarian option.
First, you need to prep your vegetables. Chop, into small chunks:
1 large onion (white or yellow work best)
2 bell peppers (we use red because I’m allergic to the green, but I’ve always thought the green added better colour)
10 average-sized mushrooms (whichever kind suit your fancy)
2 jalapeño peppers (optional, but I like a bit of the spice – make sure you’re careful when cutting these, as pepper juice in the eye is excruciating)
In a large pot, sauté the onions in a few teaspoons of olive oil until tender. Sprinkle in a healthy pinch each (I’m talking three fingers and your thumb, here) of basil and oregano, as well as two or three crushed cloves of garlic. I’m a pretty lazy cook, and a handy shortcut I discovered is garlic in a jar. I’m experimenting with brands at the moment, because I can’t get my beloved Mr. Goudas brand here in Newfoundland, but I figure a teaspoonful of minced garlic is a good-sized clove’s worth.
Carnivorous Option: If you were adding meat to your recipe, now would be the time to do it. I usually add a brick-sized amount of ground beef, turkey, sausage or pork. Chorizo or other cooked sausage works just as well. Brown the meat carefully and thoroughly, and then drain any excess fat. If you use a lean or extra lean ground you won’t have to drain it.
Now add the rest of your vegetables to the pot and allow to soften for a few minutes until their colour is heightened.
In this next step you have a bunch of options.
For the slow and steady cook, add one large can of diced tomatoes and one of crushed tomatoes.
Instead of a can of crushed tomatoes you can use a jar of commercial spaghetti sauce, which has the benefit of a few extra spices added in. If the Pie is around I usually don’t put in the diced tomatoes, either, just two jars of spaghetti sauce. For the particular recipe illustrated here, I used a carton of Trader Joe’s Starter Sauce, and it was a nice balance of tomato for both of us. I find a little extra liquid is always helpful with this sauce, as it tends to reduce over time, so what I do is pour a splash or two into the empty spaghetti sauce jar, close the lid, and shake it, to get all the saucy goodness out of it and into my pot.
If you are taking the vegetarian option, now you would add your TVP. The Pie is more of a measurer than I am, and he says he put about a cup of the stuff into this particular sauce. I like the action shot of it pouring into the pot. You will find that because TVP absorbs water, you will need a bit more liquid than you would if you used meat, so keep that in mind.
Get the sauce to a low simmer, and leave it, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. The longer you simmer it, the longer the flavours have to mix. You can also make this recipe in a slow-cooker, moving everything to the crock pot after the meat stage and going from there.
Serve with your choice of pasta and lots of parmesan cheese. There is enough sauce here for about 8 people.