“In prison, dinner was always a big thing. We had a pasta course, then we had a meat or a fish. Paul was doing a year for contempt and had a wonderful system for garlic. He used a razor and sliced it so thin it would liquefy in the pan with a little oil. It’s a very good system. Vinnie was in charge of the tomato sauce.”
SPOILER ALERT: there’s no meat in this post.
Following an extremely easy cooking experience, I decided to try something a little more challenging this week. While it was ultimately rewarding, it was a lot of work. To avoid a super long post, I’ve decided to separate this recipe into two parts: tomato sauce and meatballs (with spaghetti, of course).
To make tomato sauce, I used my mother’s recipe, although I hesitate to use the word recipe as it seems to change every time she uses it. (Side note: she’s reading this blog—I now have four readers!—and doesn’t want me to talk about her. Womp womp.) Making tomato sauce is pretty similar to making soup, you chop some stuff, throw it in a pot, and let it cook.
The most difficult part about making sauce is preparing the garlic and onion. These two ingredients truly test an amateur chef’s knife skills. For the garlic, I broke a couple cloves off of a head of garlic. Then, I smashed them with the broad side of a knife to loosen their skin so it could be peeled off. I tried my best to mince the garlic but still ended up with fairly large pieces. Such is life. Dicing an onion is a bit trickier to describe. A Stella Culinary onion-dicing tutorial describes it like this:
To dice an onion, start by cutting off the top. However, leave the root end intact. This will hold the onion together while you dice. Place the onion cut side down, slice in half, cutting from the root end down. Peel off the skin and place the onion half flat on your cutting board. Make horizontal cuts up the onion, spacing them the same width that you want your finished dice to be. Now make vertical cuts, spaced the same width as your horizontal cuts, stopping just before you reach the root. Continue the vertical cuts all the way across the onion. Finish your dice by cross-cutting the onion the same width as your vertical cuts.
And that’s what I did.
The next step was to sauté the onions in a pot with olive oil until they were translucent. The recipe did not include a timeframe for this, but it took about five minutes at a medium heat. Once the onions were translucent, it was time to add the garlic. The recipe warned me to NOT LET [THE GARLIC] BROWN, and my mother made sure to remind me again. Brown garlic = bitter garlic.
I almost immediately added the tomato paste because I was paranoid about browning the garlic, and then I filled the can with water twice, added it to the pot, and stirred everything around. At this point I had to make a judgment call as the recipe called for one can of crushed tomatoes, but my mother said sometimes she uses two if she feels like it. Apparently, she also sometimes does not use tomato paste at all. I decided to use two cans of tomatoes because more is better as far as I’m concerned.
Finally, all that was left to add was the seasoning. I got a disapproving look when I measured a tablespoon of oregano and basil instead of using a “palmful” as per the recipe (I did actually feel that the sauce was a little heavy on the dried spices so I learned a lesson about ignoring the recipe). I started with one tablespoon of sugar, but after tasting the sauce decided to add another. And I added a whole bunch of salt and pepper. After mixing everything together, I let the sauce boil—it took about 13 minutes on medium—and then lowered the temperature and let it simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every so often. And, voilà, tomato sauce.
Obviously, I could have just used a jar of tomato sauce. But I decided to bite off more than I could chew this week.