Tomato Plus Two (sauces 1 pound of dry pasta)
The late, great Italian cook Marcella Hazan had one of the simplest, best tomato sauces in history: Melt a bunch of butter; set half an onion in the butter; and cook a can of tomatoes in that. The lesson: If you have great tomatoes and two other very flavorful ingredients, they'll all shine without getting in each other's way. (Also: Butter is delicious.) So, here's a basic sauce you can transform with just two more ingredients – one in the beginning to infuse into the sauce, and one tossed in at the end for a fresh pop of flavor. Be sure to buy the best tomatoes you can – Italian ones labeled "San Marzano" are reliably great.
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil or butter
- 1 28-oz can of the best whole tomatoes you can get, chopped, juice saved
A) 6 oz bacon, ham, or salami, diced (if using bacon, skip the oil or butter)
B) 1 cup caramelized onions
A) 2 tsp fennel seeds
B) 2 tsp orange zest
A) 6 anchovy fillets
B) ½ cup olives, pitted and roughly chopped
A) 2 tbsp fresh minced ginger
B) ¾ cup thinly sliced scallions
Heat the oil or butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, and add the "ingredient A" of your choice. (No one will fault you for adding an onion or a few chopped cloves of garlic.) When it smells insanely good, add the tomatoes, their juice, and a few generous pinches of salt. Bring to a boil and turn the heat down to a gentle, lazy bubble.
Simmer for 45 minutes, until the sauce is thickened and a few drops of fat start to float back to the top. Stir in "ingredient B" and toss with pasta. Serve right away, with grated cheese if you'd like.