a first time for everything

I love tortellini. Unlike ravioli, it’s the texture of the pasta rather than the cheesey filling that really does it for me. Besides, cheese tortellini is an indulgent, super quick dinner.

I decided to try making homemade tomato sauce tonight—for the first time. It was so good, it’s worth recreating, and naming for that matter. So I call it Lindsey’s Virgin Tomato Sauce. For some of you readers, this may be your first time too. Making tomato sauce, that is.

Homemade tomato sauce doesn’t take much, in work or ingredients. And with the cost of really decent jarred tomato sauce these days, it’s nice to make a big batch and freeze some for the next few times around.

For about 6 luscious cups of homemade tomato sauce, all you need is:

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1 large onion

2 28-ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes

3 tbsp. of olive oil

4 cloves of garlic

a few fresh basil leaves

a pinch of sugar, coarse salt and ground pepper

optional awesomeness: the rind of a Parmesan-Reggiano wedge

If you’re unacquainted with the wonder of canned tomatoes, they can be a cook’s best friend. Whole, peeled tomatoes (no spices or salt added, check the label) are more consistent in flavor than grocery stores tomatoes. Now I realize we’re in the midst of tomato season, but I’m not so daring as to start peeling pounds of fresh tomatoes on my own just yet. The reason it’s best to purchase cans of whole tomatoes, is that it ensures you’re working with flawless tomatoes. Diced tomatoes can leave you with those suspicious odds and ends that didn’t make it into the pretty cans…

In a pot (at least 3 qt.), heat your olive oil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, dice your onions (I used Vidalia) and add them to the hot oil, giving a little stir. Let these soften while you chop the garlic. Add your salt, pepper, and dried spices to the onions. Once they are just beginning to soften, add the garlic so it doesn’t burn.

At this point, add in your fresh basil, roughly chopped. (Next time I intend to add fresh oregano, too. The fragrance of the fresh herbs really lingered in the sauce with remarkable, essential flavor).

Allow the onions and garlic to golden before adding the tomato can contents. Add all of the can juices directly in the pot.

Stir occasionally and bring the heat down to a gentle simmer. A bigger pot may have prevented all the splattering our little stovetop suffered…

Now the simmering time is up to you. 20 minutes is sufficient, but I wanted to thicken and reduce my sauce even further (and had vacuuming to keep me occupied in the meantime), so I just let it simmer away. I set the timer for 25 minutes to start.

Stir your sauce once in a while, being wary of the heat so your sauce doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pot. Crush the tomatoes with your spoon. Now here is the special wonder of Lindsey’s Virgin Tomato Sauce. My parents gave me the Gourmet Today cookbook (by Ruth Reichl) last Christmas, which had interesting advice for my favorite cheese. Parmesan-Reggiano has a hard rind that isn’t soft enough for grating. However, Italian cooks save this rind for homemade tomato sauce. And this cook has had a beautiful cheese rind in the freezer awaiting such an occassion!

I happened to remember my parmesan inspiration about 20 minutes into simmering, which was still sufficient time for the tomatoes to absorb the magnificent flavor. I simmered the sauce about 15 more minutes after stirring in my parmesan rind. (I only thawed the rind in the fridge about 30 minutes, it doesn’t need to be room temperature).

I crushed the tomatoes with my spoon as I stirred the sauce, and it’s a chunky, edible texture by the end of simmering. If you want a really chunky sauce, dice the onions small and break up the tomatoes with kitchen shears before adding to the onions).

Now I was particularly in the mood for a smooth sauce, and my handy-dandy immersion blender from Rick & Lynette was especially perfect for such a task. (Pour your sauce into a blender, as another option).

Be certain you remove the cheese rind before blending and serving your sauce. Whether blending with a hand stick or in a machine, you want to discard your cheese first.

I think the parmesan lightened the color of my sauce once blended, and my oh my isn’t it beautiful? The sauce didn’t taste cheesy per se, but the rind infused just enough flavor to add just a significant hint of Wow. If, for some crazy reason, your sauce is thicker than you want, add more olive oil—not water. If you end up smoothing the sauce in a blender, you may have to add more oil.

Taste your creation at this point, and add a large pinch of sugar if you wish. I did not end up adding any more salt or oil, which means my batch of tomato sauce had several thousand less milligrams of sodium than jarred, store-bought sauce. There are lots of delicious jarred sauces out there, but there is way more olive oil and salt than what you find in this homemade delight. With the infused parmesan and fresh herbs, I was surprised how little I needed to do in the end for finishing touches. Serve with fresh basil, if you’ve got some on hand—adds a special oomph.

If you’re a carnivore, or a thoughtful wife, some roasted red pepper chicken sausages are a nice little addition to this sauce. (On the side, in this kitchen). And if your dishwasher is also (annoyingly) broken and you hope to keep this a one pot meal: make the tomato sauce, pour it into a large pitcher, boil the tortellini/pasta in the sauce pot, drain and cook the sausage in the hot pot before combining it all again. Voila! Just a little creativity means just a little clean-up.

: (

Okay, so I’m bragging about little clean-up, but my sad little pot reveals how I deeply covet a (purple) dutch oven where simmering sauces never burn…


  For two indulgent servings of tortellini with Virgin Tomato Sauce, we used about one and a half cups of sauce. Plenty for next time. The rest went right into a glass pyrex for the freezer. I already can’t wait to enjoy this on another easy (and even faster) evening.Without exaggeration, it tastes amaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazing. You never forget the first time… that you make tomato sauce 😉



Filed under dinners, techniques, the basics

2 responses to “a first time for everything

  1. Lindsey…this looks delicious! I am off to the market NOW to try my hand at this. Yum!

    • Coming from a chef (you, not me), I’m thrilled to hear it! Let me know if you ended up using fresh peeled tomatoes, I want to do this next. Don’t forget the cheese rind!!!

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