How generic can you get with a recipe? How about “Pasta with House Sauce”? In truth, how often, especially when time is an issue, do we turn to pasta to help us put a meal on our table? It can be the “go-to” for stretching quantities when unexpected diners are coming. It can help turn boring leftovers into something new and fresh, as well as serving as a dependable base for knockout sauces. And…….it’s nutritious, satisfying and inexpensive.
I enjoy spending solo time at the stove making a special sauce that simmers for hours, allowing the layers of flavor to meld into something that will transport you away from your day and into the present moment. One that comes to mind is the Sardi’s Meat Sauce that was once published in A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price. If you love cookbooks, this beautiful book is well worth seeking out. My copy, which I inherited from my mother, was published in 1965. This is a collection of recipes from famous restaurants all over the world and must have been quite a labor of love for the Prices (no relation).
Sardi’s has been feeding the famous and the theater crowds since 1921. Sardi’s is also famous for its large collection of caricatures of celebrities who have dined there. Like most famous NYC eateries, be prepared for it to take a large bite out of your credit card or wallet.
My good friend, Cheryl Tan, who writes and publishes A Tiger in the Kitchen, posted her experience with making Heston Blumenthal‘s Bolognese Sauce on her own site. Cheryl calls it the 12-Hour Bolognese. Reading about Cheryl’s date with this recipe convinced me to put it on my to-do list. She put together her version utilizing Blumenthal’s recipe along with that of Marcella Hazan.
For as long as I can remember, I have been depending on a good-quality jarred marinara or pasta sauce for a base to build upon. For me it’s a relaxing way to play with multiple flavors. If I shop, the jar will be Muir Glen; if Vic or Pranee shop, it will be Newman’s Own. Both offer multiple combinations of flavors and both are suitable as a base for my house sauce. This is cooking by the seat of your pants.
Charles’ House Pasta Sauce du Jour
Adapted from past experience and my current state of mind
- 1 or 2 32 oz. (1 lt.) jar of marinara or pasta sauce
- 1 lb. (454 gr.) Italian sausage, mild or hot, pork, turkey or chicken. *
- ½ large onion, chopped
- 1-3 cloves of garlic, chopped or to taste
- 2 large handfuls of roughly chopped mushrooms
- Generous pinch of sugar (Smoothes out any acidity in the tomatoes)
- Olive oil for sautéing
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Flavor layers: All are optional but each adds so much.
- Tomato paste **
- Anchovies or anchovy paste **
- Sun-dried tomato paste **
- Hot pepper paste **
- Hot pepper flakes
- Wine (red or white – I use leftovers)
- Mushroom powder from dried porcine
- Few dashes of good red-wine vinegar, balsamic or whatever sour flavor you wish. Today I had about 1 tablespoon left of ‘O’ Brand Port Wine Vinegar, so in it went.
- Additional spices as you see fit, such as Italian blend, oregano.
- Your choice of whatever tickles your tongue. (Please let me know if you have a winner.)
* This is a good place to use leftover meats such as roasts, etc. For a vegetarian version, increase the mushrooms or add a vegetarian Italian sausage. (In my experience, the texture of these products doesn’t stand up to lengthy simmering so I recommend adding them near the end.)
** I buy the first four ingredients in squeezable tubes which gives them quite a shelf life in the refrigerator. Look for Amore or Napolean brands and there may be others, such as Roland. I use about 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) of the tomato and sun-dried tomato pastes and about ½-1 teaspoon (2.5-5 ml.) of the hot pepper, as it is quite capable in strength. Think about the size of 1 anchovy filet for measuring anchovy paste.
- Heat some olive oil in a heavy pan large enough to hold all your ingredients.
- Add the sausage, if using, and brown. (If I have just removed the sausage from casings, I use a potato masher to break it up in the pan for even browning.)
- When the sausage is done, remove to a plate and add some more oil, if necessary, then sauté the onions until tender.
- Add the chopped garlic and continue sautéing for about 2-3 minutes then add the mushrooms and cook until they have given off their water and shrunk.
- Return the browned sausage to the pan along with the contents of the jar of marinara sauce and stir.
- Add the wine, if using, or water if not, to the empty jar, replace the lid and shake to loosen any remaining sauce, then add to the pan.
Additional ingredient suggestions
- This is when you begin artistically building whatever flavors you want to add to your sauce.
- Don’t be afraid to be bold as this is your creation, remembering too that subtlety is a virtue.
- When you’ve added all you intend to add, stir and taste to see if this suits you. Is it too salty, sour, sweet, picante? Sweet and sour are relatively easy to balance, but best to err on the side of caution with salt, peppers and chiles. You can always add more later.
- Now cover and put your sauce on a back burner with the lowest flame and perhaps a flame tamer too. Let it slowly simmer for an hour or so, adding water if it becomes too dry.
- Taste and correct any seasonings you deem necessary.
Serve over freshly cooked pasta with some garlic bread and a green salad, along with your favorite wine or beer.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Music, food and photography are at the center of Charles’ life. He performed with the Dallas Symphony, Dallas Opera and was assistant principal bassoonist with the Fort Worth Symphony for more than 20 years. When Charles and Victor moved to Baltimore, Charles created Lone Star Personal Chef and Catering Service and taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma. Now in Salem, Charles is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Mountain West Real Estate, taught cooking classes for children at the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village, and owns and operates Charles Price Photography. Charles and Vic enjoy entertaining and frequently host dinners as fundraisers for local non-profits and charities