There’s a maintenance man at work who always enthusiastically tells me about his tomato sauce. It started because my name, Marcella, is literally so Italian it becomes synonymous with pizza and pasta to most people. Besides that, I love that this sweet guy tells me when he makes sauce and asks for help when he needs to improve it. I’ve opened him up to simmering to thicken and adding a bay leaf to reduce acidity (you’re welcome, by the way) and he can’t believe his results. It’s very sweet.
That being said, I thought I would try to actually follow a sauce recipe for the first time in my life. As an Italian woman you’re born with an innate knowledge of how to make sauce exactly how you like it. So why a recipe? Bon Appetit’s Basically is doing 10 recipes in 10 weeks, the first one being sauce. I was going to make something else for dinner but plans change and I had all the ingredients sorta. I used passata instead of peeled tomatoes and pecorino romano instead of parm (because money) but everything else remained true. The garlic, red pepper flakes and fresh basil were pretty routine, but it was the technique at the end that transformed this from good to great. Cooking the pasta below al dente, saving some pasta water and finish cooking the spaghetti in the simmering sauce with butter really made this a home run AND that’s something you can do with any pasta.
The other thing that really made this pop was the amount of salt I added to the pasta water. Add so much salt that you feel bad about it because as Samin Nosrat says in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat most of that salt will go down the drain with the extra water, but a lot of salt is needed for the noodles to absorb flavor. Salt isn’t a spice, it’s an essential mineral that when used will enhance the flavor and texture of your dishes. Don’t oversalt, but start to build your flavors and enhance what’s there by using salt.
Really what I learned is that technique can be everything, and technique can be simple for the home cook. Sure, maybe 5 star french pastries won’t be coming out of your kitchen any time soon, but damn good pasta will be minutes away every night.