Great tomato sauce was the backbone of a great Greek-owned, Italian food student diner in my hometown. You know, the kind with the red vinyl-covered banquets with the brass rivets that have seen better days. The formica tables in faux wood grain. And the waitresses who never bother to hand you a menu because they already know what you want. You want The Sauce.
The sauce was so good you didn’t care if the ravioli was bland. You didn’t care if the eggplant in the parmigiana was limp or crushed or gummy with too much breading. No. The sauce was the thing. You could smell it from way down the block, and it was as good the last time I ate it as the first. In all, that was probably several hundred dinners through the end of college and into my working life. If you were a student on a $25 a week food budget, you’d put 5 bucks aside for Saturday night dinner at that diner because you knew once you ate something with The Sauce, you’d never go hungry again.
I don’t pretend my marinara is as good as theirs. For one thing, my family doesn’t like fennel nearly as much as I do, so I have to leave it out of the main batch. For another, mine has no salt and takes five minutes. By most gourmet estimates and all traditional ones, both facts should mean it’s awful. But it ain’t.
My sauce is pretty d**n good, as it happens. And a lot less bland than all those souped-up sauces by the jar with the 450-700 mg sodium per serving. And it takes five minutes. And it gets better the next day. And it’s one of the simplest recipes I can think of.
- 1 28-oz or 2 x 15-oz cans no-salt plum tomatoes in their own juice (e.g., Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, sometimes Ralph’s/Kroger/etc.)
- 1 t. no-salt tomato paste if none was included in the canned tomatoes
- 1/4 med. yellow or red onion
- 1 FAT clove garlic, about 1″x3/4″, mashed or grated
- Couple of shakes of red wine vinegar, maybe 1-2 t.
- Sprig or two of fresh thyme or 1/2 t. dried-but-not-dead
- couple of basil leaves if you have them
- Pinch or two of fennel seed if you have it and like it
Blend everything in a food processor (or you could grate or chop everything by hand if you insist, and you’ll feel and look so much more whole wheat). Microwave in a 2.5 cup pyrex bowl with a loose cover on HIGH (1150 W oven) for 5 min. The sauce will have thickened slightly at the top and edges. Use some, then cool and refrigerate the rest in a covered microwaveable container. Reheat for 1-2 minutes on HIGH the next time. Serve on everything. Everywhere. With abandon.