For Style and Cheek’s first recipe post I decided to go with something incredibly basic that you can build on for future recipes: tomato sauce. There are a TON of different (and delicious) ways to make tomato sauce, ranging from a simple “quick” sauce with 4 ingredients to a complex braised meat “Sunday gravy”.
Today I’m going to share the recipe that I use most frequently, a quick tomato sauce with pancetta and shallot. Some of you may being asking, “Dan, what do you mean by quick sauce?” Well I do not mean Prego or Chef Boyardee, which have their utility and yes are microwave ready and thus quicker than what I’m sharing today. This sauce, while not instantaneous, only takes about 20-25 minutes of prep and cook time, but the result is well worth it. You can store this sauce in the fridge for up to a week and build on it to create innumerable other dishes such as pizza, the aforementioned Sunday gravy, linguine in red clam sauce, and even chili. Yes Tex-Mex style chili. Consider this one of your core recipes.
I cannot remember the first time I made tomato sauce, but I’m fairly certain it was the very first thing I learned how to make. This recipe is a variation of that initial sauce my mom used to make at least once a week when I was a kid. A couple of notes on the ingredients I have listed below: I have tried a ton of different canned tomatoes, and finding the right balance between texture, acid, and salt is key. The quality of your tomatoes will be a huge factor in the quality of your sauce (duh).
The brand that I trust the most, by a wide margin, is Muir Glen. These tomatoes are yummy even before you do anything to them, so you’ll really have to mess up for this sauce to not turn out tasty. That said, sugar is still a necessary additive to any tomato sauce that utilizes canned tomatoes, which are always going to be more acidic than freshly picked tomatoes. The advantage of using canned tomatoes is that they are available year round and will always have a consistent flavor you can rely on.
For this batch of sauce I grabbed some Manini’s Spaghetti pasta fresca from Whole Foods, a “homemade” pasta that is absolutely delicious and comes in 9 oz. packages (perfect for two people). Julia and I prefer Manini’s to basically all other pasta we have tried and it just happens to be gluten free. So, bonus! The recipe outlined below is enough to dress 2 lbs of pasta.
- 2 cans Muir Glen Crushed Tomatoes with Basil
- 2 lbs pasta
- 4 cloves garlic crushed and then finely diced
- 1 medium sized shallot finely diced
- 4 oz pancetta thinly sliced (I used Applegate's natural pancetta)
- 6-10 basil leaves torn
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- pinch black pepper
- 1 tsp crushed red chili flake (optional)
- 2 tbsp grated parmigiano reggiano (optional)
- Evenly cut your pancetta into thin strips no more than 1/2' in length (smaller is better). Add to a large sauce pan on medium low heat (2-3 on a scale of 10) with about 1 tablespoon of your olive oil. The idea here is to mostly render the pancetta in its own fat so you do not want to add more oil than necessary to prevent sticking. Stir as needed with a spoon.
- Finely dice your shallot and add to the pan after the pancetta has been cooking for about 5 minutes. Stir the pan, coating the shallot in pancetta fat and olive oil. If you feel that the pan is too dry, add more oil.
- Crush a clove of garlic gently with the side of your knife or palm of your hand, dice and add to the pan once the shallots have just begun to sweat. Mix the pan and let sit for a few minutes while the shallot and garlic cook.
- After about 10 total minutes, add your tomatoes and sugar to the pan and stir. The sugar is necessary to temper the acidity of the tomatoes. Stir the pan occasionally throughout the next 10 minutes.
- Shred the basil by hand and add it to your sauce. Sprinkle in some crushed black pepper and taste as you go. I usually use about a teaspoon.
- Turn off the heat and allow the sauce to thicken. Stir in your other optional ingredients if desired. Finito! Serve over pasta or on pizza or store for later use.