This is a recipe for a very basic, universally appealing pasta sauce. It contains no meat and is quite adaptable for other dishes.
¼ c olive oil
1 35-oz can whole Italian plum tomatoes
½ sweet red bell pepper, cut into ¾-in pieces
1 small onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic
1 tsp assorted herbs: basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley (you can buy “Italian Seasoning,” which is a mixture of these herbs, at your local supermarket)
salt and pepper to taste
In a 4 quart pot heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Peel and slice 2 cloves of garlic and sauté them in the hot oil. Add the diced onion. Add your cubed red pepper. Sauté garlic and pepper till tender. [I'm not dogmatic about this -- some folks like onion in their sauce, others do not. Sometimes you have red bell pepper on hand. Sometimes you don't. Use what you have. It will likely be just fine. At a minimum, you need garlic. ]
Tomatoes, olive oil, onion, garlic.
Remark over the celestial aroma of garlic, red pepper, and olive oil sautéing. Realize that these are foods of the gods and the singular reason why Italians live so long and are, collectively, such happy people. Remove the garlic if it gets too brown, or leave it in. I happen to love the flavor of the toasted garlic. The water from the pepper and/or the onion should prevent the garlic from browning too much.
Onion and garlic sauteing in olive oil.
Pour the can of tomatoes, juice and all, into a big bowl. Wash your hands. Immerse your immaculate hands into the tomatoes and crush them up. There is no substitute for hand-crushing tomatoes. A blender makes pabulum of them; cutting them with a knife, is well, inelegant. You want the lumps.
1 can of tomatoes, crushed by hand.
Pour the tomatoes into the oil/pepper/garlic sauté. Wipe the stove since the cold, watery tomatoes will make the hot oil quite angry. Raise to high heat to bring to a simmer. While waiting for the simmer, add your herbs. Fresh basil, which is easy to get most of the year nowadays; rosemary, oregano, and parsley. Or add about a teaspoon of the dried herbs (“Italian Seasoning”). Go easy on the oregano in any case, otherwise your sauce will taste like it should be gracing a pizza, not pasta. Crush 2 or 3 cloves of garlic into the sauce, if you like a more pungent garlic flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste. After achieving a simmer, lower the heat to low, and let simmer 20 minutes, NO MORE.
Cook some pasta (spaghetti, thin spaghetti, linguine, penne) at this point, dump the sauce on it, and feast. If you’re smart, you’ll double the sauce recipe and freeze half for later use. Pass the cheese at the table.