During this frenetic and festive holiday season, it is helpful to have a well-stocked pantry to quickly feed the family without sacrificing flavor or nutrition. If you have a can of plum tomatoes, garlic and olive oil you can cook up a tomato sauce in 15 minutes. If you have fresh or dried rosemary and balsamic vinegar, that 15-minute tomato sauce elevates into a herby infused wonderland. There is no need to call for pizza delivery, tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce mixed in with steaming bowl of penne pasta is quick, easy to make, and will warm you up on these brisk fall nights.
Tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce is a throwback and staple recipe of mine. I used to make it a lot during the early years of my marriage for my growing family. Some recipes are timeless and will never feel out-of-place no matter how many years have passed. Tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce is such a recipe. It is a special classic.
I discovered it in a cookbook of mine, Marcella’s Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan dating back to 1986. Marcella Hazan is one of my cookbook authors who I attribute to teaching me about real Italian cooking. While I read and cooked through her cookbooks, I learned how simple, but not simplistic, Italian cooking is. Using only a few key ingredients and traditional techniques, it is easy to create a fresh tasting, delicious and satisfying meal. Of course there are those traditional meals that take hours to make, but most of the food I relied on, could be prepared in 30 – 40 minutes. Many of Marcella’s pasta recipes became family favorites that over time would develop into our own.
This recipe first caught my attention because of the added balsamic vinegar and rosemary was unlike any tomato sauce I had before. From this recipe I learned about adding vinegar to a sauce or stew to brighten up the flavor of the food. Up until that time I had only used vinegar for salad dressing. I loved the additional body and bright flavor the vinegar brought out in stews and sauces, and I continue to season with vinegar in several of my other recipes.
At first I thought the rosemary would overwhelm the tomatoes, but I immediately discovered it did not overwhelm and was very much at home with the tomatoes. Using rosemary in tomato sauce is an easy way to switch things up a bit from same old same old to, “… Oh yummm, what is that I am tasting?” The rosemary has a warmer and earthy flavor compared to the traditional herbs of oregano and basil. I am not saying there is anything wrong about using oregano and basil in tomato sauce, just that it is nice to have variety.
Way back then, I always assumed making tomato sauce required a 5 gallon pot of tomatoes and a day long simmer on the stove. This recipe for tomato sauce with balsamic vinegar takes less time to cook than it does to cook a pound of pasta. At first I needed some convincing that the instructions were not misleading and tomatoes would taste cooked without the metallic aftertaste from the can. It took me a couple repeat performances to be persuaded that tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce was perfectly cooked in 15 minutes with no aftertaste. Oh joy, I was so thankful, cooking a pasta dinner became a lot simpler and faster.
At first glance it might seem this recipe uses a lot of olive oil. Trust me, don’t skimp on it. The olive oil is the foundation for the sauce to shine. As the olive oil cooks with the tomatoes, garlic and rosemary, it becomes infused with all the flavors and turns a golden red color. When the sauce gets stirred into warm pasta, the infused olive oil coats the pasta and becomes silky and rich with flavor. This recipe is not a thick saucy sauce, but one with scattered chunks of sweet, herby and garlicky tomatoes and infused olive oil. A tomato sauce that will beg you to lick your plate. You can do what Joe does at the end of this meal, sprinkle a little grated cheese over the sauce remnants and wipe your plate clean with crusty bread.
“One could spend a lifetime finding new tomato sauces to make and still have ideas left over for a reincarnation or two.” Marcella Hazan Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, 1986
Not a pasta fan this sauce is delicious served over polenta.
Make a pasta frittata with the leftovers. Pasta frittatas are outstanding using pasta coated in a tomato sauce. In a small bowl mix together 6-8 eggs with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Put a 10 inch skillet on the burner and turn to medium high. Add 2 Tb olive oil and 2 cloves of minced garlic and heat up. Add 2 cups leftover pasta with sauce. Heat up the pasta till it is good and hot, even crusty in parts. Follow the rest of the cooking instructions with this basic recipe, and continue as directed.
What to do with any leftover fresh rosemary?
Marinate chicken in olive oil, crushed garlic, rosemary, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice, then cook in the oven or grill.
Make this Grilled Flank Steak
Make an apple galette: Use this galette recipe as a foundation and substitute 3 cups of sliced and peeled apples (about 5 -6 apples) for the nectarines and blueberries. Substitute the dried apricots with 1/2 cup dried cranberries, or omit them altogether. Add 1/2 tea of minced fresh rosemary, (do not use dried rosemary here) and follow the galette recipe instructions. Glaze the cooked apple galette with warmed apricot jam while the galette is right out of the oven and still hot.
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