This is one of the first dishes I ever learned to make on my own. It was also the first that I stopped needing a recipe to cook, and the first that actually received compliments from my dinner companions. And it's still one of my standby recipes! This simple tomato sauce hits all the requirements for a weeknight dinner: easy, versatile, and ready in about thirty minutes. Oh, and lick-the-pot good.
If you're just getting into cooking, this is a great recipe for learning some basics. You chop vegetables. You sauté and simmer. Timing isn't terribly important, but the results are consistent. You can try out different vegetables in the sauce and play around with the spices in your cupboard to see how they work together.
Speaking of spices, I really like the flavor of smoked paprika in this dish. But that's me. I've also been known to throw in a teaspoon of chili powder for a Southwestern spin. Which is maybe a little weird, but I think it's tasty all the same. If you'd rather stick with traditional flavors, go with some Italian seasonings like oregano and basil.
2 links chicken sausage, diced (or other leftover meat)
1 large onion, diced
1 12-oz jar roasted peppers, drained and diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 whole star anise
1 bay leaf
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 pound pasta
a splash of balsamic vinegar
Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until the sides are seared and the sausage is warmed through. Transfer the sausage to a bowl.
Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until they are softened and beginning to turn brown. Add the peppers and cook to evaporate the liquid from the peppers. Clear a space in the middle of the pan and sauté the garlic until it becomes fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir it into the vegetables along with the paprika, the star anise, and the bay leaf.
Add the sausage back into the pan. Pour the tomatoes and all their juices into the pan and bring to a simmer. Mash the tomatoes with the back of your spoon for a saucier sauce, or leave as they are for a chunky one. When the sauce comes to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10-20 minutes as time allows.
While the sauce simmers, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta with a generous tablespoon of salt until al dente. Strain.
Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to the sauce and give it a taste. Add more salt or other seasonings as needed. If it tastes bitter, a tablespoon of brown sugar helps balance it out. Remove the star anise and bay leaf before serving.
Leftovers will keep refrigerated for one week.
Related: Make or Buy? Tomato Sauce
(Images: Emma Christensen)