Italy is one of my favourite places on planet earth, it’s a country where you can truly lose yourself in a mound of food, emerging on the other side with a very large smile on your face. Italians cook to please the soul.
One thing that I have learned from all my Italian endeavours is that chefs there can take a few basic ingredients and turn them into a magical bowl of flavour that you can’t find anywhere else. Especially when it comes to simple dishes such as sausage and bean casserole. Each region also has its own variety of dishes, it’s like visiting small culinary countries as you travel from North to South.
Great food is in Italy is homemade with, passion, love and patients. That’s the only way you can truly bring basic ingredients to life for them to become a true masterpiece of exploding flavour. The humble homemade pasta sauce is no exception. In Italy spaghetti with tomato sauce, is normally served as a classic first course and is seen as an institution, a cornerstone of Italian cooking. This sauce is very versatile and can form the base for our vegetarian “meatballs” and spaghetti recipe as well.
Authentic sauces are usually cooked using a slow and steady approach, however, I’ve used the same basic principles in this recipe that will help you to speed up the process into a quick and easy version that you can prepare after work. It’s homecooked and part of a real food diet.
Sugo al pomodoro or tomato sauce in English is generally made from only a few ingredients and can be served on its own with penne pasta, spaghetti or as a base lasagne sauce, pizza and all kinds of Italian homemade delights. The base of a healthy homemade pasta sauce consists of tomato, onion, garlic, olive oil, sugar, fresh basil and salt to taste. Yes, it’s honestly that basic.
For the slow and steady version, you can use 800g fresh, organic and slightly overripe peeled tomatoes, but this can be hard to find so using organic canned chopped tomatoes or organic passata can work better in this case. It’s also quicker and easier if you’re making a mid-week homemade pasta sauce. If you don’t have passata you can use a stick blender to smooth out canned tomatoes as the texture for this sauce should be smooth, not chunky.
Not all Italian recipes use onion, it varies, so this can be left out if you choose. But if you are using onions they must always be very finely chopped as it will affect the texture of the sauce otherwise. If your knife skills are a little questionable you can always blend the whole sauce with a stick blender right before adding the basil leaves.
There are two ways to work with garlic in this sauce, the slow and steady option will normally use halved garlic cloves that cook with the sauce and is removed before serving. For full garlic flavour in the quick and easy option, don’t fry the crushed garlic with the onion, add it to the tomatoes as that will make the garlic flavour more prominent. But if you have to work with other people in the morning, like most of us do, it’s best to fry the garlic and onion together for a slightly less potent option.
In my experience, Italians use a tad more olive oil in their cooking than most weight-conscious westerners feel comfortable with. However, I’d suggest that you go with me on this one as the extra few calories are well worth it and it will still be better for you than the dreaded shop-bought sauce that contains a load of peripheral ingredients that aren’t good for you anyway. The olive oil has to be extra virgin and preferably organic.
The basil used has to be freshly chopped, it makes all the difference to the pasta sauce. You can use a bit of pesto as I find that to be a better alternative than dried basil. But if it’s a last resort, you can go with the dried option.
Sugar, Salt and Flavour
A pinch of sugar will do the perfect dance with the acidity of the tomato, to create full-bodied flavour. You can also use a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar instead of sugar if you choose as it adds a bit of richness to the sauce. Don’t add sugar and balsamic, that will be too sweet.
Batch Cooking and Freezing
This healthy homemade pasta sauce is perfect for batch cooking and freezing to use when you’re in a rush. Leftovers can be saved for next week’s pizza or another pasta variation later down the line, just make sure you cool the sauce and place in an airtight container before freezing.
Can I Use this Sauce as Base for Other Dishes?
Yes, most definitely this tomato pasta sauce can be repurposed and used as a quick base for baked pasta, pizza, spaghetti puttanesca (just add olives, capers and anchovies) or it can be used with meatballs or a veggie version of the same.
Healthy Homemade Pasta Sauce
- 2 cans organic chopped tomato or 700 ml organic passata
- 2 tbsp organic tomato puree
- 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove crushed organic garlic
- 1/2 finely chopped organic onion (optional)
- 15 g freshly chopped organic or homegrown basil
- 1 pinch sugar
- salt to taste
- Over medium heat, add the olive oil and garlic to a medium-sized saucepan until it softens. Be careful and stir regularly so that the onions don't brown, they should just soften.
- Add the tomato puree, canned tomatoes or passata, a pinch of sugar (or balsamic if you're swapping the sugar out) and salt to taste. Once the sauce starts to bubble, lower the heat and simmer with the lid on for 25-30 mins until the sauce thickens.
- If you've used coarsely chopped onion or chopped tomatoes instead of passata, use a stick blender to smooth out the sauce. If your pan is small enough for the liquid to cover the blender, this can be done straight in the saucepan, just be careful not to burn yourself with splashing hot sauce.
- Add the chopped basil leaves and serve with your favourite pasta such as spaghetti or penne.