Italian cooks have been experimenting with sauces for centuries. Specific sauces were created to go with specific pasta shapes. Many Italian cooks think the sauce makes the dish. Though American grocery stores carry an array of jarred sauces, they cost more and may not suit your taste. Home made sauce costs less, tastes better, and has less salt.
As author Jack Denton Scott notes in “The Complete book of Pasta,” when you have mastered the art of pasta sauce “you are a long way to mastering the art of Italian cooking.” Denton thinks sauces should be delicately flavored and no ingredient should dominate.
Though I’m a “made from scratch” cook, in a pinch I have used jarred sauces. Just as Denton described, some sauces had an overpowering flavor of garlic. Other sauces had corn syrup in them and tasted too sweet. The dried seasoning packets were too strong and tasted artificial. Italian sauce varies from regio to region, but one stands out from the rest — Duke of Urbino Sauce.
Food correspondent Waverly Root writes about the sauce in his book, “The Cooking of Italy.” In the 15th century Urbino, Italy became an important town. Apparently the ruling duke, Federigo da Montefeltro, was unpopular and so afraid of being poisoned that he ate unseasoned food. “But the Duke, as fond of seasoning as the next aristocrat,” Root writes, “had his own private sauce — prepared for him at the table by a trusted servant from secret ingredients.” Though bottled Duke of Urbino sauce is available, the ingredients are still secret. Root thinks honey is one of them.
Do you want to save money? If so, make your own pasta sauce. After reading dozens of recipes, I came up with this recipe for basic tomato sauce. I added a touch of honey in honor of the Duke of Urbino. The sauce has few ingredients and you can make it in 10-15 minutes. Make a double batch, if you have time, and freeze half for another day.
2 1/2 tablespoons extra light olive oil
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
1-2 teaspoons garlic, minced (depends on your taste)
2 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon lower sodium salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon dried basil
Pour olive oil into soup kettle. Add minced shallot and cook for two minutes. Add all remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer on very low for 8 minutes. Watch the sauce carefully because it is thick and spurts like lava. Use it for spaghetti, pizza, chicken or meat. Makes 8-10 servings.
Beef Sauce: Add one pound 93% lean hamburger, cooked.
Olive Sauce: Add 1 2.25-ounce can of sliced black olives.
Mushroom Sauce: Add 8 ounces of fresh mushrooms, sliced and cooked.
Chicken Sauce: Add 2 cups cubed chicken, cooked.