Today, I’m going to teach you how to make homemade tomato sauce…WITHOUT a recipe.
Yeah, ya heard me.
A few years back I got a part time job at Sur-la-Table as a kitchen assistant for their cooking classes. It was shit pay and probably one of my favorite jobs ever. I didn’t work there for the money, I worked there for the experience and the discount. I mean, seriously, I got PAID to basically take cooking classes that people were PAYING for AND I got more hands on and one on one instruction from the chefs. It was a total fucking win.
One of the things I learned while there was that, with the exception of baking, the Chefs pretty much never followed the recipe…including the ones given to them to teach. We were almost always improvising based off of time, what was available, what was fresh, what we liked or disliked…
I loved it.
And oh my God was the food fantastic!
Probably the best thing I was taught during my time there was how to make a tomato sauce. I don’t have a recipe and I rarely make the same sauce twice. It is so simple and easy and CHEAP to make. As a matter of fact, there is a very good chance you have most, if not all, of what you need right now in your pantry and/or refrigerator.
So this is what we’re going to do. I’m going to tell you what you NEED in order to make a tomato sauce and then I’m going to tell you some things that go really good in a tomato sauce and then you are going to go into your kitchen and see how much of this stuff you have on hand. Ready?
What you need:
- Tomatoes (fresh, canned, whole, peeled, diced…)
- A pan or pot of some sort
That’s it. Now, it might not be the greatest sauce you’ve ever had but that’s literally the only thing you NEED.
Now for all the stuff that will make it taste yummy:
- Garlic (minced, fresh or powder)
- Wine (red, white or cooking)
- Balsamic vinegar
- Oil (EVOO, Avocado, Vegetable, Canola… etc)
- Herbs (dried or fresh) such as Basil, Oregano…
- Vegetables! Onion, Zucchini, Squash, fresh Tomatoes…
- Lemon juice
- Cheese (Parmesan, Romano…)
- I’m sure I’m missing a few things…
- Blender or immersion blender
- Potato masher
- Large spoon, preferably wooden. I always feel like homemade sauce tastes better when made with a wooden spoon much like how Chinese or Japanese food tastes better when eaten with chopsticks.
Ok, now it’s your turn. Go see what you have on hand.
It’s ok…I’ll wait…
Alright! So this day was like any other day. I worked, I picked up my daughter, I was broke and I needed to make dinner. I went to my pantry and pulled out a box of pasta and a can of San Marzano tomatoes.
This I could work with.
Next, I went to my refrigerator to see what I had. I found some leftover fresh basil, grape tomatoes, some minced garlic, lemon juice and Parmesan and Romano cheeses. In my spice cabinet I found some cooking wine, balsamic glaze and salt and pepper.
I started off with heating up some EVOO in a large stainless steel pot. I added a heaping about of minced garlic and the grape tomatoes. I sauteed this until the tomatoes burst, stirring frequently so to not burn the garlic (add a little bit more oil as needed to keep the garlic wet).
I then chopped up all of the basil and threw it in the pot and added some salt and pepper, giving it a few good stirs.
Next, I added a couple of pours of cooking wine (I was out of drinking wine). I love using wine when I cook (not just to drink). It adds such a great flavor and depth to the food. Cooking wine is ok, not the best but will work in a pinch. I gave it a quick stir and then added the can of San Marzano tomatoes. Now, for the tomatoes you have a few options. I used whole, peeled tomatoes so you can either squish them with a potato masher or if you don’t have one, use your hands.
Once you’ve got the tomatoes mixed in, it’s all about the flavors. I added a few squirts of lemon juice (it helps to give it a nice, fresh flavor) then threw in a few handfuls of cheese. During this whole time, I’m tasting the sauce after every addition. Too much salt? Add a little more lemon juice to it. Seriously, the acidity will help balance out the saltiness. Once I have the sauce tasting good, I add a little balsamic to it. I always like to add that to the end so that you don’t get a vinegary flavor. If you don’t have balsamic vinegar (or glaze), add a pinch sugar to the sauce. Yeah, I know…sugar sounds weird but it really does help dress up a sauce. You’re not adding so much that you make it sweet but just enough to take out some of the acidity.
At this point, you should have a nice, rustic, chunky looking sauce. If you like a smoother sauce, blend it up with either an immersion blender or, if you don’t have one of those, a regular blender (just make sure you remove the cap from the top of the lid or else it will explode on you) (<—-don’t ask me how I know this).