The tomato sauce for this recipe was inspired by one of my favorite pasta dishes, the tomato and basil spaghetti at Scarpetta in Las Vegas.
Once you see how easy it is to make tomato sauce, you will never buy pre-bottled red sauce again! You will probably not want to eat out for Italian ever again either. I find that I am easily disappointed by Italian food at restaurants so I prefer to make it at home. Italian food is for the most part, best kept simple with few ingredients cooked well. Many places complicate their sauces, over cook pasta etc etc. (NOTE: for a vegetarian version of this, just omit the meatballs; the tomato sauce is SO good on its own with the pasta).
Ingredients and method
Boil water for pasta. Be sure to salt the water.
1 LBS of ground beef (or a mix of ground beef and pork)
Bread crumbs (I usually turn left over bread into croutons which can be stored for a long time, and then crush a few into crumbs for this recipe; METHOD: cut bread into crouton shaped pieces, toss in olive oil, any dried herbs of your choice and season with salt; bake in the oven until firm; can be stored, probably forever)
2 Pinches of dried thyme (or whatever herbs you want; fresh sage also works nice)
Salt and Pepper
Combine all ingredients (except the olive oil), season mixture with salt and pepper, and form into meatballs. You should be able to make about twelve 1.25-1.5 OZ meatballs. I like to wear latex gloves to do this. It makes it easier to make the meatballs. Just take some of the mixture, maybe a golf ball size, and ball it up (roll with both palms).
Heat a pan on medium high and coat bottom with olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the meatballs. You are just going to brown them, not cook them through. They will finish cooking in the sauce later. Turn and brown all sides. Remove from heat and set aside.
The Amazing Tomato Sauce
4 Tomatoes roughly diced (I usually do # of people eating + 1 tomato; so for example, if this was for 4 people, I would use 5 tomatoes; you can also remove the seeds and skin from the tomatoes but I am too lazy for that)
Fresh Basil leaves cut chiffonade (the original recipe at Scarpetta uses basil, but if I don’t have basil or can’t find it, I will use another herb: dried thyme, fresh oregano etc)
4 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp of butter
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (buy REAL parm, not that powered parm in the green bottle, trust me)
Pinch of chili flakes (can omit)
Heat a large pot over medium high heat and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Once the oil is hot, add the tomatoes. They will initially look like this. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. After about 5 minutes reduce heat to medium, add the herbs, chili and garlic.
The tomatoes will start to break down after some time.
Mash the mixture either with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Add the butter and parm cheese.
Turn down the heat and reduce the sauce on simmer. TASTE the sauce throughout and season with salt and pepper and continue to taste until it tastes good to you. At this point, add the meatballs.
Continue reducing the sauce for about 20 minutes (and cooking the meatballs). Now is the time to cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. I usually cook according to package time minus 1 minute. I like my noodles al dente and the pasta will continue to cook in the sauce anyway (next step).
Once the pasta is cooked, transfer it to the sauce and meatballs. Add a little pasta water to the sauce to thicken it, and stir everything around. Plate, top with more Parmesan cheese, serve and enjoy. I didn’t take a pic of the final dish, but I have one half eaten. Thats how good it is.
Now you never have to buy pre-bottled tomato sauce or frozen meatballs again!