Tomato Sauce, or The wild versatiliy of an absurdly large can of crushed tomatoes
Lately I have been making a Marinara-variant sauce. I say variant because apparently Marinara sauce relies on fresh (or if unavailable, canned) cherry or plum tomatoes, that are cooked with garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper, a bit of vinegar and salt until just thickened. Until this point I had assumed that all tomato-based sauces that go on pasta were just called "Marinara" in this country - so the dining hall at college convinced me, anyway. Also that all Marinara sauces contained large amounts of sugar, really making them warm ketchup. Which is fine, just not what I expect from tomato sauce.
So when told otherwise, I was curious.
I decided I needed to try at least the spices out. Oregano is pretty standard in tomato sauce, so is garlic. The crushed red pepper was new, but seemed like fun. I say the spices because I had no idea where to find the canned cherry tomatoes, but if I do, I will give it a shot. I may not have tried too hard - I am one of those people that prefers their tomato sauce relatively smooth, large chunks of cooked tomato are just not my thing. Or maybe they are and I just have not found the right way to prepare or eat them. I'll give it a try, as I said.
So I used crushed tomatoes. At first, the regular large cans (28 ounces? I don't remember). Then we ran out of those, got more, and eventually we brought home from BJs the can I had once pointed and laughed at, asking who would ever use a can that large? I do, now. Turns out it is almost as easy to crush and chop 6 cloves of garlic as it is to chop one or two - and there is less overall cleanup. Plus, tomato sauce keeps well and freezes nicely. And can be dressed up any number of ways if you get bored of the regular variety.
So, the general idea:
(we will pretend we are using a large regular can, not a hilariously large one, for convenience)
Crush and chop
1-2 cloves of garlic
Cover the bottom of your pot in olive oil
Fry garlic gently until it begins to brown
Add your can of crushed tomatoes
About one teaspoon of dried oregano
a teaspoon of crushed red pepper (or more as you like)
a teaspoon of kosher salt
a glug (maybe a teaspoon?) of vinegar (I've used white, apple cider and occasionally balsamic - whatever is around)
Stir until it is all nicely mixed, and heat up to a gentle simmer.
Pour onto noodles, or let sit for a while to get a better mix of flavors. If you want to eat right away, an extra teaspoon of balsamic vinegar over the top of your serving makes it extra delicious. (Though you could skip that by putting the balsamic vinegar straight in the pot. )
With a large large can, quadruple - or eyeball it and taste til you like the results.
As I said, I usually freeze about half (which works when you make absurd quantities in a stockpot. Make sure to use a large and deep enough pot, crushed tomatoes like to splatter. ) Strangely, this does something to the sauce. It tastes like my grandmothers tomato sauce. Which, perhaps not coincidentally, she used to make in larger amounts and freeze.
The rest goes in the fridge, from where it usually gets tossed back in a pot and reheated. If you get bored of "plain" spicy tomato sauce (which does happen when you make it in 4-liter quantities), you could use this sauce as the tomato base for Shakshuka (bonus points for ways to use kale!), stir in some cream for a creamy spicy tomato sauce, cook some lentils, add some curry powder and ginger, and stir the resulting sauce into that for a nice lentil curry. It's a nice base to start from, and so far has worked with just about anything I've put it in that called for a can of tomatoes. No, it is not a perfectly neutral tomato flavor, but so far, I like it what it does.
My current favorite is based on a pizza I have yet to find in the States, but is everywhere in Germany: Tuna. Cut an onion into quarters, slice these thinly and fry until they get glassy. Pour in a pint (two cups, half a liter) of tomato sauce, add a can of tuna and about two handfuls of olives, quartered (I like black olives for this, but I would go with "whatever is around" when I run out).
Photos, eventually, I am sure. Tonight it's too dark. Maybe tomorrow. I DO have a nice large can of crushed tomato sitting around, just begging to be used.