havocthecat: strawberries, mint, and cream (food berries & cream)
[personal profile] havocthecat posting in [community profile] batchlunch
This is one of the first things I ever learned to make (my great-grandmother taught my grandmother, who taught my mother, and I am teaching my son, etc.), and it's infinitely flexible, so you can customize everything based on your tastes.

What I'm typing out here isn't so much a recipe as it is a set of guidelines that you can alter as much as you want. It's a little less clear than "use exactly this amount," and is a lot of "add this item to taste, and you can use either item X, Y, or Z, depending on what you want."

It's a dairy-free recipe, can potentially be vegetarian, and can be altered to be gluten-free, though you have to really take care with your meat products, especially if you add sausage or premade meatballs.

To make this gluten-free, find a gluten-free brand of Worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins is the only one I know about) or omit it entirely, use a gluten-free type of meat (many sausages use flour as a filler, though I know that Jimmy Dean does not, and most store brand sausage is gluten free as well, but you also should be safe with ground beef, ground chicken, or ground turkey), and use gluten-free pasta. If you're REALLY not liking the gluten-free pasta's texture, you can actually top rice with the sauce and it's weird, but not bad. If you want gluten-free sauce, do not use pre-made meatballs, not unless you know a source for getting them gluten free, as meatballs are usually made with bread crumbs.

This makes A LOT of food. You can either freeze small plastic containers or bags of sauce and pull them out to thaw as you need, or do what we do, and leave a giant pot of sauce in the fridge for a week or so, and pull it out to reheat as you want. Cook your pasta fresh either the day of or the night before you eat it, because if you leave it in the sauce for too long, it's going to soak up all the liquid and get mushy and gross.

Ingredients
Sauce Base:
4 - 28 oz. (large) cans of tomatoes - This is something you can mix up depending on what you like. I use two cans of diced tomatoes, and two of crushed tomatoes with added puree. My mom used four cans of crushed tomatoes. My mother-in-law uses Ragu or other jars of pre-made pasta sauce from the store for her base. (I try not to twitch too much around Mr. Havoc for that.) You could probably use fresh tomatoes if you want to take the time to blanch, peel, seed, and puree them, but this is time-consuming as it is.

Vegetables:
Garlic - If I'm short on time, I just use a couple of big spoonfuls of pre-minced garlic, but I prefer the flavor of freshly peeled and chopped garlic when I can do it. You may only want to use a couple of cloves; I usually add one or two heads of garlic.
Onion - One or two large onions (depending on how much you want to tear up), diced. I use sweet yellow onion. I've used yellow, sweet yellow, and white, but you could probably use red too if you have it on hand.
Celery - Get an entire package of celery or celery hearts, wash it off, and dice it up.
Carrots - Optional! If you want a slightly sweeter sauce, peel and dice a couple of carrots. (If you have kids and want to sneak additional veggies in, grate your carrots finely and mix them after you add the tomatoes.)
Mushrooms - I use one 12 oz. package of cremini/baby portobello mushrooms, but you can use however many mushrooms of any variety you want.
Bell Peppers - I dice up one red, yellow, or orange bell pepper.
Artichoke Hearts - Sometimes I get either two small cans of artichoke hearts and drain them, or one giant bag of frozen artichoke hearts.
Zucchini - Optional! If you plan on freezing the sauce, do not add zucchini, because it turns slimy and gross when it thaws. *shudder* (You can grate it similar to carrots, though, and then it doesn't matter if you freeze it or not.)
Olives - I grab one can of medium to large pitted black olives. I don't drain them!

Meat:
This is something you can switch up (or omit entirely, if you're a vegetarian). I use one pound of meat (two if I'm really craving protein), and switch it up between pizza sausage, Italian sausage (hot or mild), turkey or chicken sausage, ground beef, or meatballs (either homemade or premade/frozen). You can also use ground chicken or ground turkey. My personal favorite is either pizza sausage or Italian sausage. You can certainly use more than one kind of meat, if your preference ones to lots of protein.

Seasoning:
Olive oil - I use extra virgin, first cold pressed. I am an olive oil snob from way back. :)
Worcestershire Sauce - Not an option if you're going vegetarian, as it has anchovy paste in it. Also has HFCS, but it's used pretty sparingly in a giant pot, so I have yet to go on a hunt for a non-HFCS containing brand. (I use Lea & Perrins, as I said earlier, because it's gluten-free.)
Basil - To taste, fresh or dried
Oregano - To taste, fresh or dried
Parsley - To taste, fresh or dried
Black Pepper - To taste
Salt - To taste
Italian Seasoning - This is a super-useful mix of herbs that I often use in place of buying a bunch of different herbs. You could also use any of these individually. Often, a bottle of Italian Seasoning will contain tarragon, sage, basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and many other herbs.
Vinegar - Red wine vinegar is good, or balsamic vinegar. Some people skip the vinegar and add a dry white wine instead. Either works.

Also optional are any other types of vegetables, meats, or seasonings, and a can of tomato paste, which will REALLY thicken up your sauce if you like a super-thick red sauce.

My mother in law adds cane sugar to her sauce, and I know some people add ketchup, because they like a sweeter sauce in order to cut the acidity. My personal feeling is, if you make this fresh and don't simmer it down for hours on end (but just reheat as you need to), that you don't need to add any sweeteners to it in order to cut the acidity. Over-simmering red sauce gives me acid reflux, but it's fine if it's not over-simmered.

Preparation

Chop all the vegetables and mince your herbs, if you use fresh herbs, before you start. Also, open up all your cans before you start. Despite the fact that it takes forever, in the end, THIS WILL MAKE THINGS MUCH EASIER. I use tupperware containers and cheap aluminum bowls from the grocery store to hold my chopped vegetables.

In fact, I sort them as follows:
Bowl 1: Garlic, onions, celery, and un-grated, diced carrots
Bowl 2: Mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, carrots (if grated), drained canned (or frozen) artichoke hearts
Bowl 3: Minced fresh herbs.

First, get your pot on the stove, turn the burner on high, and let your pan get warm enough that, if you flick water on it, it sizzles. Add olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan.

(This is when I usually put my pan of water on to heat up for making the pasta.)

Dump in your first bowl of vegetables, the ones with garlic, onions, celery, and, if you diced some up, carrots. Add a pinch of salt (half a teaspoon, maybe?), and saute until the onions turn translucent.

Add whatever kind of meat you want, if you're adding meat. (Except meatballs.) Brown evenly. If you can get it cooked all the way through, so much the better. Your first bowl of vegetables will continue to soften.

After your meat is cooked, dump in your cans of tomatoes and the can of olives, with at least half the olive brine (it really adds to the flavor of the tomatoes without screaming O HAI OLIVES IN SAUCE), and your second bowl of veggies. Stir until everything is very evenly mixed. That should take something on the order of a couple of minutes to get everything in. If you're using premade meatballs, add them now.

Turn the heat down to a simmer. Add Worcestershire sauce, vinegar or white wine, salt (to taste, and I barely add any at this point, because the canned tomatoes have lots of salt in them), pepper, and any dried herbs.

Let simmer until meat and veggies are cooked through. Add a can of tomato paste at this point in time if you want to thicken it.

(This is when my pasta water is boiling, which is when I add a pinch of salt to the water, dump my pasta in, and give it a good stir. Your pasta should take no more than 10 minutes to cook to a nice, firm al dente texture. When you drain your pasta, do not rinse.)

Add your minced fresh herbs, if you have any. Let cook no more than 10 minutes. It makes a good dinner, and then can be re-used over and over again as leftovers or lunch the next day.

Top, if you would like, with grated parmesan cheese.
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