A few months ago, I wrote about making Sicilian-American Sunday gravy, a meat-filled pasta sauce that simmers for hours and is great for a hearty Sunday dinner. But I recently had a request to share a simple, meatless pasta sauce that would be quick enough for a weeknight dinner, but be thick and hearty enough to taste like it simmered for hours.
It won’t surprise you to know that it’s actually very similar to the Sunday gravy, but I’ll write it up for you anyway. As I said before, this isn’t an iron-clad recipe, but more a guideline to follow. Measurements are not exact, so a bit here or there either way isn’t important. What’s important is that you taste it as you go and adjust it to your taste.
The key here to making it taste like it’s simmered for hours is caramelizing the tomato paste and cooking in the red wine. Both add a depth of flavor that gives it a long, cooked flavor.
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot, grated
2 garlic cloves, diced
2 – 28oz cans crushed tomatoes (plus any leftover sauce in the fridge from last time)
1/2 – 12oz can tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried basil
2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp fennel seed (optional)
1 tsp dried rosemary (optional)
1/2 tsp anise seed (optional)
Salt and pepper
In a large, heavy bottom pot or Dutch oven, add a couple tablespoons of oil and put over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook until the onions are soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds, until you can smell the garlic.
Move the vegetables to the sides of the bottom and add the tomato paste. Let it sizzle in the oil for about 30 seconds, then mix it with the vegetables. Cook until it starts to get darker and caramelized.
Add the crushed tomatoes and any leftover sauce, if using. Add 2 cups of water and the wine. Bring to a low boil, lower the heat to low. Add the herbs and spices.
Cover and simmer until ready to serve. If you simmer for more than about 45 minutes or an hour, check to make sure it’s not getting too thick. If it does, add some of the pasta water to thin it a bit. (Pasta water is great for thickening.)
For some variation, sometimes we add in some chopped kalamata olives and a bit of their brine, which adds a great bit of umami. You could also add in a tsp or two of Worcestershire sauce or even Asian fish sauce for an umami boost as well. If you really want some veggies, some chopped red bell pepper, diced carrots (instead of grated), sun-dried tomatoes, or mushrooms would be good. Be sure to sautée them with the onions in that step. You could also add in a can of fire-roasted tomatoes (or use all fire-roasted if you want.)
The great thing about pasta sauce is that it’s endlessly adaptable and very forgiving, as long as you follow a few principles to guide you.