Doesn’t a good spaghetti sauce take hours and hours to cook? Not necessarily. If you saute the onions until they’re tender before adding the tomatoes, it doesn’t have to take long. If the onions aren’t tender before you add the tomatoes, though, they’ll take a long time to get that way. Why? Because whenever you cook something in an acidic environment—tomatoes, for example—it takes a longer for that thing to become tender.
Besides tenderizing your onions, another reason you might cook and cook a tomato sauce is if you like it more thick/rich/almost sweet-tasting. Heading towards tomato paste-y. This sauce, though, is more on the bright and fruity side. So—speedy.
Finally, and for the record, I readily admit that when it comes to Italian food, my husband is the better cook. This is basically his recipe, although it features a secret ingredient from my Jewish grandmother’s version—a dash of hot sauce.
Makes about 8 cups
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 8 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press or minced
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
- Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- One 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, or more to taste
- 3/4 cup Zinfandel, or other dry red wine
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
- 1 tablespoon sugar, optional
In a large saucepan or small stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes (adjust the heat, if necessary, to avoid browning). Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes (with their juices), tomato paste, and salt and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the wine, basil, oregano, and hot sauce. Taste and add more salt and/or, if the sauce is too acidic, the sugar. (You can prepare the sauce in advance, storing it covered in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for several months. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.)