Cooking for fun – Italian tomato sauce

by sil on May 29th, 2011

Sometimes I really like to cook. Okay, most times I would really like to, I just get very busy and don’t take the time to. I definitely get my love of experimenting (and total lack of writing down ingredients and amounts) from my parents. Whether that is nature or nurture, who knows. All I know is it is fun to my tasty food, so I will try to recall what I actually did to make my two most recent meals (that I have pictures for too!).

The Sauce

So my first totally awesome experiment was some sorta of Italian dish. Any good Italian dish needs a delicious sauce. I scoured the interwebs for something that sounded like it would fit my needs. I wanted something tomatoey, and something that would not take too long to make. I found one that used some of my favorite herbs and called for the alcohol to cook with. I just couldn’t say no (linky)!


  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, crushed with flat of knife and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 to 1 cup diced, fresh basil. (It’s your call. We usually use close to a cup)
  • 1/2 cup red wine. (Good enough quality to drink)
  • 1 T turbinado (raw) sugar (or Splenda)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed or diced tomatoes.
  • 1 t lemon juice (optional)
  • 3 T brandy (optional)

* T is for tablespoon, t is for teaspoon

Looks good doesn’t it? While is calls for either diced or crushed tomatoes, I highly recommend crushed if you want it to be a sauce. Otherwise it kinda turns out as a Italian salsa, which was pretty cool. I like to lessen the basil a bit and add in some oregano and rosemary. I can’t really give you amounts as I’m dealing with all dried and crushed versions so I never actually have a cup of fresh basil.

Let’s get cooking

  • Sauté onions in olive oil over low heat, covered, for 10-12 minutes.
  • Add garlic and basil, re-cover, for another 5 minutes or so.
  • Uncover and add wine. Reduce by about half.
  • Add tomatoes , sugar, and S & P and simmer for 15 minutes. You can reduce the sauce further and intensify the flavor. We like to add the brandy and lemon juice about 3-4 minutes before finishing.
  • If you want to turn this sauce into Neapolitan Sauce, add 10-12 sliced ripe olives, and 1 1/2 T capers just before finishing.
  • Fresh Italian Parsley can be added at the end if you like it.

The Rest

Now that we have the sauce out of the way, we have to have something to go with it. I decided to work up some noodles and 1 lbs of ground beef.

The ground beef I simply fry up in a pan until brown. I add some mix of spices as I go along (mortal and pestle for the win). I usually match some similar spices like basil, oregano. I like to throw in some cilantro for a little kick. Sometimes some generic Italian seasoning. It’s usually a little different each time.

The noodles I have even less guidance on. I usually go for some Penne Rigate. I never really measure how much I use. I usually pick them up on a 16 oz box and I think I use about half. I cook them in some boiling water. When they are tender I add in some margarine, a mix of seasoning, and some parmesan cheese. The seasoning is pretty similar again: basil, oregano, some powdered garlic, and this Greek seasoning from Penzey’s Spices (they are the coolest).

Finally as a last minute ingredient I mix up some Italian Carrots (linky).


  • 2 cups carrots; sliced
  • 1 teaspoonolive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoonDried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoonDried Oregano
  • 1 teaspoonButter

Cook carrots in butter until tender/crisp. Drain carrots and toss with olive oil, basil, and oregano. Here’s a snapshot of everything before the final move!

Once everything is all nice and cooked individually, it is time to bake things together. Mix the sauce, the noodles, and the ground beef into a nice casserole container. I think I used a 2 quart one (I’m really not sure). Mix them around a bit and put a nice layer of Mozzarella cheese and sprinkle on some grated Parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the cheese looks to be nice and melted. It will look something like this:

Time to take a slice and add a side of carrots.  Let’s take a look at the final product.

The Leftovers

I usually end up with a little bit extra of everything. I do like me some leftovers. This one time I decided to take the noodles and go from there.

  • I fried the noodles in a pan with some Parmesan cheese and pepper jack cheese. I like them to get a little crispy on one side.
  • I had some boxed scalloped potatoes (sour cream with chives flavored). They sounded pretty tasty. And I do like tasty. They are boxed so not much to comment there. Maybe I’ll make my own someday.
  • Next comes the slow cooked seasoned peas. Steaming would prolly be best, but slow cooked in some water is okay too. Don’t want to bring them to a quick boils as that can nerf a lot of the flavor. I added some margarine directly to the water. Included some basil, oregano, and a few other random spices. I think thyme or sage.
  • Finally comes the bacon. Betcha didn’t see that coming. I didn’t have anything else to really make meat wise. Fried up some bacon that I powdered with some chipotle powder.

Put it all on a plate and dig in.

Happy experimenting!

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