Recipe: Everyday Special Tomato Sauce

I am a self-labeled foodie, and I love cooking as much as going out to eat…but I’m also a foodie on a budget. So, I’m always looking for ways to save some money, while at the same time not skimping on the flavor. One of the easiest and tastiest ways I’ve found is by making my own sauces. A quality jar of tomato sauce at the grocery store can run you anywhere between $5-$10. What I like to do is buy the much cheaper canned tomatoes, and make my own sauce at home. Not only will this save a lot of $ over time, but I can flavor it exactly as I like.

This is sauce that I came up with a few years ago and it’s my go to tomato sauce recipe. Flavored with garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper as basil, it has a bold, all day taste, but can be made in 30 minutes.

Ingredients:

IMG_18971 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes—I prefer San Marzano because they’re sweeter, but any brand works. Just make sure they’re not flavored with anything. Also, don’t get tomato purée or sauce in a can, ugh.

1 package of grape or cherry tomatoes–any kind of tomatoes really works well, even vine ripened or beefsteak tomatoes

Salt

Pepper

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tin of anchovy fillets, packed in oil and salted—don’t worry if you don’t like eating anchovies or worry that it’s too fishy. The anchovies will melt in the pan, and give your sauce the salt it needs, and a deep umami flavor. This is actually a trick I learned from Rachael Ray a while ago. I was skeptical when she added as well, but it takes the sauce to another level

1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes

½ tablespoon of oregano, dried

½ tablespoon of basil, dried—if you’re going to serve this sauce right away, then a handful of fresh basil is a great way to finish the sauce before it gets tossed with some pasta

Olive oil

 To Make the Sauce:

  1. Set your oven to 400 degreesIMG_1888
  2. Add the grape tomatoes to a baking pan and toss with olive oil, salt and pepperIMG_1892
  3. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes as you complete the rest of the stepsIMG_1893
  4. Heat some oil in the bottom of a sauce pot on medium-high heat until very hot, but not smokingIMG_1894
  5. Add the anchovies to the pot. As they hit the hot pan, they will begin to melt. Make sure to break them up with a wooden spoon to help them alongIMG_1895
  6. As the anchovies are melting, add the garlic and cook together. Your kitchen will begin to smell amazing. Like your favorite Italian restaurant!IMG_1896
  7. Let the garlic and anchovies cook for a couple of minutes until the garlic browns a bit
  8. Add the red pepper flakes, oregano and basil to the pot and stir everything together for a couple of minutes more
  9. Add the canned tomatoes to the pot and scrape up any bits that might have stuck to bottom of the pot
  10. Reduce the heat to medium and add the roasted tomatoes to the pot as well. Stir well to incorporateIMG_1898
  11. Cover and cook for about 5-10 minutes. Resist the urge to keep checking on it. Let everybody get to know each other in the hot tub!
  12. Uncover and stir. Taste the sauce for seasoningIMG_1900
  13. If it tastes right, then use an immersion hand blender and pulse the sauce until it is mostly smooth but slightly chunky. If you like a smoother sauce, I would purée it up in a blender or food processor. I like a slight chunkiness to my sauceIMG_1901
  14. Continue to cook the sauce on the stove for another 3-5 minutes, uncovered this time aroundFullSizeRender-1

Once the sauce is ready, you can eat it right away, or store it. I always make a big batch of sauce, so I have some to use that day and a jar or two to keep in the freezer. If frozen, it’s good for a couple of months at least. You can use the sauce for pasta, lasagna, meatballs, pizza, as a base for chili, or any number or recipes.

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Creamy Tomato Chicken Pasta

The first time I made this dish wasn’t actually at home. I was on vacation in the UK, and staying by a friend for a few days in Birmingham, England. I had been going out for most of my meals, and I thought it would be a nice change to not only have something homemade, but also cook a meal that my friend could have as leftovers for a few days after I left. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, since I was a traveler on a budget, and the chicken thighs at Tesco looked really good that day. if you want something that might be fancier than chicken, if you’re entertaining with this dish, then some meatballs would be a nice substitute. After forming the meatballs, I would brown them for a couple of minutes on each side in a pan, and then let them finish cooking in the sauce.

Pasta is a great way to spread a dish out over a few meals, and it’s also an easy way to stretch a protein into several portions. This dish is creamy, comforting, and easy to make—it will stick to your ribs and definitely make you want another plate, so make sure to make the whole recipe, even if you live on your own—the leftovers are amazing. This dish only gets better the next day!

Ingredients:

1 package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 cup of pancetta cut into cubes—if you don’t have pancetta, then salt pork would be a good substitute though it has less meat so you’ll have to use slightly more of the block. Bacon is ok too, just make sure it’s not flavored too heavily, and that it’s thick enough to cut into lardon-sized pieces

1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes—I prefer San Marzano tomatoes since they’re sweeter, but any brand should be fine. A fun variation of this recipe is to use fire roasted diced tomatoes along with a few sun-dried tomatoes then pulse them in the blender until a sauce forms, but not completely smooth

Granulated garlic or garlic powder

3-4 cloves of garlic

1 large Spanish onion (or 2 medium)—any onion is fine really, except for red, which I feel has a little too much bite for this recipe

1 package of Baby Bella or Cremini mushrooms, halved—white button mushrooms are also fine, but cremini have a little more flavor. I think large Portobello mushrooms are too bold for a dish like this. If you were to use them, then I may suggest using a heavier protein like turkey cutlets

¼ cup of white wine—use something you would drink. If it doesn’t taste good straight up, it won’t taste good concentrated in your dish!

1 cup of heavy cream

Olive oil

1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes—adjust to your own taste. I like spicy, but feel free to omit the pepper flakes if you prefer a milder sauce

1½  teaspoons of dried oregano

1 tablespoon of fresh basil, roughly chopped

1 box of fusilli or rotelle—I like to use a pasta shape that will hold a lot of the sauce and is bite-sized

Parmesan cheese (garnish)

Cooking Steps:

  1. Cut all of the chicken thighs in half
  2. Season the chicken liberally with salt, pepper and granulated garlic.
  3. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of a large, deep skillet, and turn the burner to medium heat.
  4. After a couple of minutes, add the chicken to the pan. Try to make sure that the chicken is in a single layer, and that they all get some pan space. This way they cook in about the same timeIMG_2863
  5. Cook the chicken for a few minutes, flipping occasionally, until it’s browned, but not cooked through. Don’t worry; it will finish cooking in the sauce later.IMG_7134
  6. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside in a bowl or a plate for later
  7. In the same pan, add the pancetta and cook—stirring occasionally so that the pieces don’t stick to the bottom of the panIMG_2477
  8. When all of the pancetta has browned and has a crispy exterior, remove to the same bowl as the chicken. Resist the urge to drain them or place on a paper towel—trust me, you’ll want this fattiness later!IMG_9331
  9. Add garlic and sauté for 30-45 seconds on medium to medium-high heat until it starts to brown, but pay attention. Burned garlic can ruin a dish!
  10. Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutesIMG_7298
  11. Once the onions start to brown and caramelize a bit, add the mushrooms—again, you should make sure the onions and mushrooms are spread around the pan, and stir occasionally, so that they all get some “sizzle”IMG_3043
  12. Add the dried oregano and crushed red pepper flakes, as well as well as ½ teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of black pepper—hold off on adding any extra salt since the pancetta will lend some saltiness to the sauce. You can always add more later!IMG_5693
  13. When the mushrooms are cooked tender and the onions have continues to caramelize, deglaze the pan with the white wine. Make sure to scrape up all the bits from the bottom of the pan. That’s pure flavor!FullSizeRender-1
  14. Let the alcohol cook off for a couple of minutes and then add the tomatoes to the pan
  15. After 2 minutes, add the chicken and pancetta back to the pan along with the basilIMG_6382
  16. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 12-15 minutes, and stir it after about halfway to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan and move everything aroundIMG_5863
  17. About halfway through the previous step, put your pasta water on to boil.
  18. Cook the pasta according to package directions—the only unique thing I do in this dish is add a clove of garlic, roughly chopped, to the pasta water in order to give the noodles a subtle garlic flavor, and make sure to add a nice amount of salt since it will flavor the noodlesIMG_8148
  19. When you drop the pasta into the pot, add about 1 cup of heavy cream to the sauce (or 3 turns around the pan). Stir to incorporate well into the sauceIMG_6979
  20. Drain the pasta when it’s al dente, even if you like it softer since it will continue to cook in the sauce for a couple of minutes.IMG_4452
  21. Add the pasta to the sauce pan, and mix the pasta, sauce, chicken, pancetta, onions and mushrooms all together. You want the noodles to be completely covered in sauce, but not swimming in it. Simmer together for another couple of minutes.IMG_4359
  22. Add a few big spoonfuls of the dish on a big plate or shallow bowl, and garnish with some Parmesan cheese, freshly cracked black pepper, and maybe a sprig of fresh basil

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Buon Appetito!