Tomato Sauce Variations


Tomato Sauce with Fresh or Dried Herbs Stir any of the following herbs into the sauce just before serving: ¼ to ½ cup chopped fresh basil, parsley, dill, or mint; 10 fresh sage leaves; 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, oregano, or marjoram (or 1 teaspoon dried); 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried); or ½ teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon (or ¼ teaspoon dried).

Vegetable-Tomato Sauce Chop up whatever leftover vegetables you have (grilled anything is especially nice) and warm them up in the sauce just before serving. If you don’t have anything handy, chop 2 cups raw eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, or bell peppers. In Step 1, cook them alone in the oil until the vegetables are soft and tender, 10 to 15 minutes; add more oil to the pan if it starts to look too dry. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon, then add the onion to the pan and continue with the recipe. When the sauce is almost done, stir the vegetable back in just long enough to heat through.

Spicy Tomato Sauce Known as arrabbiata. Skip the onion and in Step 1 put 1 tablespoon chopped garlic in the oil along with 1, or 3, or 5 (or up to 10 if you like things really hot) small dried red chiles or a big pinch of crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is brown deeply colored (but not burned)—then turn off the heat for a minute, add the tomatoes, and proceed. Remove the whole chiles before serving.

Tomato Sauce with Fresh Mushrooms Cook 1 pound sliced trimmed mushrooms (any kind) along with the onion until they shrink and all their liquid evaporates, 5 to 10 minutes (see Pan-Cooked (Sautéed) Mushrooms); then add the tomatoes and proceed with the recipe.

Cheesy Tomato Sauce Right before serving, stir in 1 cup cubed fresh mozzarella cheese, or use ½ cup ricotta or goat cheese for a creamier, milder sauce.

Puttanesca Sauce Skip the onion and in Step 1 put about 1 tablespoon chopped garlic in the oil along with a few oil-packed anchovies. Mash up the anchovies a bit as you stir; wait to add salt until the sauce is done. Just before adding the tomatoes, stir in 2 tablespoons drained capers, a pinch red pepper flakes if you like, and ½ cup pitted oil-cured black olives.

Meaty Tomato Sauce Start by cooking up to 1 pound ground beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or turkey with the oil and onion until it browns, 5 to 10 minutes, before adding the tomatoes. You can also use sausage; just break it up into chunks as it cooks. Adjust the heat so the meat browns without burning.

Spaghetti and Meatballs Make a recipe of Meatballs and add them to the sauce in Step 2. Stir gently so they don’t break.

Tomato Sauce with Seafood When the sauce is ready, stir in up to 1 pound peeled shrimp, lump crabmeat, or chopped cleaned squid or scallops. Reduce the heat so it bubbles gently, cover, and cook until the seafood is warmed or cooked through as necessary, 1 to 5 minutes. Or add a 6-ounce can of oil-packed tuna to the pan when you add the tomatoes.

Fresh Tomato Sauce This takes a few minutes longer to prepare than canned. For a “meatier” sauce, use roma (plum) tomatoes; slicing tomatoes have a brighter taste and thinner texture. Cherry tomatoes are fine if you cut them in half and don’t mind the chewiness of the skins, but they’ll never quite come together into a sauce the same way. In any case, figure about 2 pounds per recipe. I don’t bother to peel or seed them (not worth the effort), but I do remove the cores. If you want to get rid of the seeds: Cut them in half—lengthwise if they’re roma; around the equator if they’re slicers— and gently squeeze out the watery interior. Then cut them into 1-inch chunks and proceed with the recipe.

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