(Some) Shortcuts Allowed

When I first started cooking seriously six or so years ago I was a purist. Cooking shortcuts were almost universally unacceptable. Clients would ask me if it was okay to buy pre-peeled garlic, and I would wince to myself. I made all my own spice rubs. And, darn it, I cut my own chicken cutlets thank you very much.

Since then I’ve eased up a little bit. If a client is more likely to cook if she doesn’t have to peel her own garlic, then godspeed. I still make some spice rubs, but I’m also addicted to Fresh Direct’s Everything Rub. And I’ve seen the light when it comes to chicken cutlets. They’re so convenient!

There is still one shortcut that I don’t take (at least not yet): marinara sauce. It’s just too easy to make my own and too tasty. Plus, I like knowing exactly what goes into it. I want extra virgin olive oil, not soybean oil, and real onions, not dehydrated onions.

This recipe is a variation on the one my husband learned from his Italian mother. I often make a double recipe of this tangy sauce so I have a lot to freeze in small-ish containers for emergency pasta cravings.

Which cooking shortcuts do you take? And which ones do you skip?


Yield: about 3 ½ cups

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if necessary

½ onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 ½ cups water

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon sugar

freshly ground pepper to taste

a handful of chopped fresh basil (optional)

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the onions are soft, but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add a splash more olive oil if the onions are browning. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for another minute.

2. Add the tomatoes, water, salt, and sugar. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning adding the pepper, more salt if necessary, and basil if using.

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