When I got married in July, I was armed with a small arsenal of recipes I couldn’t wait to start making now that I’d be cooking for two, and not my measly ol’ Grad Student one. I’d been “nesting” since way back when I got my first apartment at the start of grad school, so I was pretty much gung-ho to COOK ALL THE FOODS.
However, it was a surprisingly tough lesson to learn that I wasn’t actually going to have all my mom’s mad cooking skillz on my first try, but needed to go through my own Culinary Scientific Method and do my own experiments. I then figured I should keep a record of the successful results, and present them in a sort of culinary self-exploratory series.
So I present to you, Experimental Italian Cooking Part 1: Freezer Sauce…
- Saucepan with lid
- 1 large chopped onion
- Olive oil (a turn of the pan’s worth)
- 5 cloves chopped garlic
- handful of basil leaves
- Massive (Godzilla-sized!) can of peeled (or crushed) tomatoes
- Quart size, freezer-quality zippy bags
Optional additional ingredients (Throw in when you add the basil leaves, or instead of them):
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Crushed black pepper
(We avoid adding any salt to the sauce because the tomatoes have their own sodium, and if the sauce is too salty it tends to mess up whatever recipe for which we eventually use it once all the ingredients are together.)
My parents have a magnificent garden, from which they cull vast quantities of vegetables and especially tomatoes, which are so abundant that the sauce they make in September lasts them until the next year’s harvest. My own garden is still very much a work in progress, and so until my own little plants can produce enough for even one jar of deliciousness, canned tomatoes from the supermarket work just fine.
The amount of onion or garlic you put in the sauce can depend on your love, or lack thereof, for these flavors. This recipe is just a scaled-up version of what I do when I make tomato sauce fresh for that night’s dinner, but as with all cooking, add or subtract as you see fit.
1. Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until onions just start to get translucent and smell awesome.
2. Lower the heat to medium-low, and add in the tomatoes.
2a. If using crushed tomatoes, just stir a bit: these yield a nice, smooth sauce.
2b. If you prefer your sauce a bit chunkier, choose peeled tomatoes and use a potato masher to gently crush them into submission in the pan. But be careful: They can splatter if you get too zealous with your shmooshings, and tomato stains are notoriously difficult to get out of clothing!
3. Throw in the basil leaves, and stir them in. Keeping the heat at a low simmer, cover the pan and let sit for about an hour, stirring occasionally. (The thicker you want your sauce the longer you can leave it to simmer, just be sure to give it an occasional stir so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan and starts burning.)
4. Once you’ve got it to the desire consistency, pull the pan off the heat, uncover, and let it rest to cool completely. Since this step takes a while, I tend to make these huge batches of sauce on a Sunday or a day when I haven’t got too much else going on.
5. Once cooled, use a ladle to fill your zippy bags about halfway when standing up, then get as much air out as possible before zipping shut. Lay these flat in your freezer stacked perhaps only two high, at most. (I found when I tried to stack more than two or three, they slid off each other and got all funky-shaped, taking up more space than they needed to in our not-huge freezer).
The result is a stack of Sauce Bricks you can pull out to use whenever you need ’em, thus sparing the time (and tears! accursed onions!) required to make it from scratch. We’ve successfully used (defrosted) frozen sauce not just for pasta, but also lasagna, manicotti, and pizza. Just yoink a bag from the freezer and leave it in the fridge or even on your countertop to defrost, and BEHOLD: Sauce.
Thus, a bit of effort on the part of your Past Self can help make your Future Self happy and well fed!