The Accidental Sauce

Over the years, I have experimented with making my own tomato sauce. For a long time, this just didn’t work. I’d get some bland, runny, tasteless mess that didn’t stick to the pasta. Recently, for reasons I don’t completely understand, it’s been working better.

Then, the other night, completely by accident, perfection. One thing I have learned is that everything I was taught about cooking pasta was a dirty lie. First, very fresh sauce made from fresh tomatoes and not cooked that long generally works better not on long pasta, but on pasta that comes in small pieces, like penne. Penne has more surfaces to which the sauce can stick, which is pleasing.

In particular, I reserve angel hair as something to be used primarily for sauce from a jar poured over sauted ground beef meatballs. This dish is a staple of my college psyche, and I will never escape it, so I may as well accept that. Pete tells me that I am supposed to say that it is stupid for all other applications. And I can’t disagree.

Second, to keep the pasta from sticking to itself, you do not do some bizzarre ceremony at the sink, rinsing with hot or cold water. You return the pasta to the pan and get some sauce on it. If you can’t get the sauce on it immediately for whatever reason, sprinkle on salt and pepper for taste and drizzle it with olive oil. Then mix that up until you can sauce it.

The corollary to this is you put sauce on the pasta while it’s in the pot, not when it is on your plate.

Finally, the sauce itself. Here is what I did

1. 4 or 5 gloves garlic. 2. Half an onion. 3. 2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves 4. 6 or 7 tomatoes. A mix of roma and not roma.

Cut the tomatoes into large cubes and then run them through the Cuisinart for a few spins. You can also just squish it with your hands, but this makes the skin on my hands peel away from the bone, so I avoid it.

Meanwhile, heat up a pot. Add oil, put in the garlic and onion. Add salt and pepper. Saute until the onion is soft. This is very important. If the onion doesn’t get soft, it will be crunchy in the sauce.

Throw the basil on top, mix. Throw the tomatoes on top of that. Mix. Now put in 2 or 3 large pinches of salt to get the acid out of the tomatoes. Pepper to taste. If you want, add wine.

Bring to a boil and then cook it 20-25min on low until the tomatoes reduce down. Thicken with corn starch and water if you want (old trick from my Mom).

When the penne is cooked, drain it and put this sauce on top and mix.

I’m not sure this text will capture whatever accident happened last week to make the sauce a sublime perfection. But, we can always hope for the best.