Veggie Might: Easy Tomato Sauce

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

For years I avoided making my own tomato pasta sauce based on several misconceptions:
1) Jarred sauce is fine
2) Making homemade tomato sauce is hard
3) You have to be Italian with instinctual sauce know-how

Let’s debunk these one at a time.

1) Jarred sauce is fine if you like bland sauce and don’t mind spending just as much time and effort “perking up” what comes out of the jar as you would making a batch from scratch. Plus, jarred sauces are high in sodium and preservatives that keep the smiling at you on the shelf for a good long time. They can also get expensive.

2) Making homemade tomato sauce is hard if you think chopping is hard. The rest is putting stuff in a pot and stirring. Really! Now what you put in the pot takes a little thought and alchemey, but there are recipes and gurus out there to guide you. Find one you like and make it your own. Before you know it, you’ll be making sauce without a recipe, just like an Italian auntie.

3) You have to be Italian with instinctual sauce know-how like I am Italian. There is not a twig or bit of Latin bark to be found anywhere on my Anglo-Saxon-Scots-Irish family tree, and I wear long sleeves to the beach. But I finally got over the fact that the absence of a sauce gene and an Italian nana shouldn’t stop me from kicking out some great sauce. My pal SL, her mama, and her Zia Stella would be proud.

My easy tomato sauce is so simple and pretty fast. You can make it with canned or fresh tomatoes, and it only takes about 40 minutes. You can cook the pasta while the sauce simmers. It’s ideal for a weeknight supper and keeps well for leftovers and lunches.

I made two versions of this sauce and both were delicious. You can mix and match ingredients and essentially choose your own adventure. Herbs can be swapped out based on your personal preferences or what you have around the kitchen.

Version 1: Fresh tomatoes and balsamic vinegar made a chunky, sweet sauce with loads of flavor. I used a 1/2 tbsp less sugar for this version, since balsamic vinegar is much sweeter than other vinegars, especially as it cooks down. The rosemary got a bit lost, but it was still quite delicious.

I forgot to peel or remove the seeds from the fresh tomatoes, and it wasn’t too much of an issue, but I recommend you do both of those things for a saucier sauce. Peeling tomatoes is so easy. Just drop the tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds, remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and allow to cool. Then pierce the skin with a knife and the skin will peel right off.

Version 2: Canned diced tomatoes with red wine vinegar made a tangy, bright sauce that really highlighted the fresh rosemary. This sauce is gorgeous over sauteed vegetables and whole wheat pasta.

So that’s it. Cast away whatever crazy notions have been keeping you from making your own sauce and be Italian.


If you like this recipe, you may enjoy:
Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca
Pasta with Eggplant, Zucchini, and Mushrooms
Tomato Sauce II:Light Lidia’s Tomato Sauce


Easy Tomato Sauce

Serves 8

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes (or 2 lbs fresh, diced + 1/4 cup water)
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp red wine vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
1 1/2 tbsp sugar (or 1 tbsp if using balsamic vinegar)
1 tsp dried oregano (or 2 tsp fresh, chopped)
2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed (or 1 1/2 tbsp fresh, finely chopped)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook for about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook together for about 4 minutes or until onions are soft and translucent. Add oregano and rosemary to onion and garlic and cook for another minute or two.

2. To the vegetables, add tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, and sugar. Stir well, combining all flavors. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes up to 1 hour, adding water, a tablespoon at a time, if necessary. (I only added water when I used fresh tomatoes.)

3. Serve over your favorite pasta and vegetables, top with fresh basil or parsley, and share the story of how your zia from the old country taught you how to make sauce.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
52 calories, 1.8g fat, .75g fiber, .75g protein, $.64

Note: This recipe can be made with canned or fresh tomatoes. Cost was calculated based on recipe made with canned tomatoes.

1 tbsp olive oil: 120 calories, 14g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.08
1 large yellow onion: 52 calories, 0.3g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.65
6 cloves garlic: 25 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.07
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes: 132 calories, 0g fat, 6g fiber, 6g protein, $3.00
1 tbsp tomato paste: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.62
2 tbsp red wine vinegar: 6 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.26
1 tbsp sugar: 67.5 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
sugar, granulated, 3 tsps: 45 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.03
1 tsp dried oregano: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
1 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.08
salt and pepper to taste: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.04
TOTALS: 417.5 calories, 14.3g fat, 6g fiber, 6g protein, $5.15
PER SERVING (totals/8): 52 calories, 1.8g fat, .75g fiber, .75g protein, $.64