Spaghetti with Chunky Tomato Sauce

When the tomato sauce stands on its own, it's time to make your own simple sauce. And since, as of late, I have been on some kind of inexplicable pasta kick, I present to you one of the simplest tomato sauces.

Sure, if it were summer, one would pluck tomatoes from the vine, snag a few pounds from the farmers market, or procure some at the local grocery store. However, we're fully ensconced in February, and I am aching for the acidic sweetness of tomatoes. Canned it is. Do obtain the best canned tomatoes you can find. Cook's Illustrated, in its wonderfully geeky way, has taken all the guess-work out of selecting your canned tomatoes. In this breathlessly empirical article, they conclude that San Marzano tomatoes are not actually worth all the hype. Instead, they recommend good old Muir Glenn whole tomatoes. 

Composed of ingredients probably found in your pantry (maybe you'll need to substitute some dried oregano and basil), this sauce is a snap. But these two questions remain: What is it when those sweet, acidic tomatoes stew in olive oil for an hour with some garlic, onion, and herbs? Why does the resulting sauce equal much more than the sum of its delightful parts? 

Answers to which I cannot provide. But I'll just keep making this economical and simple staple in the core of winter and not mind at all.


Spaghetti with Chunky Tomato Sauce

4 Servings 

1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, chopped, liquid reserved
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh oregano leaves
6-8 large fresh basil leaves, julienned
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
salt and pepper

3/4 lb spaghetti
6-8 basil leaves, for serving
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

1. Heat the chopped tomatoes and their liquid in a medium sauce pan, add 2 Tbsp of the oil, the oregano and basil, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2.  Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in another medium saucepan over medium-low heat, add the onion, and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion softens, 6-8 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomato paste, season with salt and pepper, then reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and has turned brick red, about 20-30 minutes more.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta to the pot and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.

5. Drain well, then transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl, add the sauce, and toss well. Top with basil and cheese.


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