When it comes to kitchen staples, there are a few things I always try to keep on hand for quick weeknight meals and last-minute company. Among them are the six-or-so fixings for a basic tomato sauce, because a good sauce works so well with so many fast dinner options. Sure, you can buy sauce -- and there are some pretty good ones out there -- but a quick tomato sauce comes together in minutes, and you can vary the puree to suit your needs, whether you're thinking pizza, pasta or a quick dip. Best of all? You don't even need to cook it.
For a basic no-cook tomato sauce, purée a can of chopped tomatoes with a little fresh oregano, basil and garlic. Give the sauce a little depth with some chopped Kalamata olives and season with a touch of salt.
For a quick weeknight pizza, buy a package or two of ready pizza dough, available at most markets. Ladle on some sauce and a sprinkling of cheese, and top it to your heart's content. Your pie will be ready to bake as soon as the oven is heated.
Or add the puree to pasta. You could simmer your sauce a few minutes while the pasta is cooking to mellow out the flavors. Or simply add the no-cook sauce directly to the pasta when it's ready; the pasta will warm the sauce as it's tossed. Vary the coarseness of the puree depending on whether you're want something more smooth or chunky.
Your no-cook sauce also works wonders as a dip. Keep the sauce coarse and serve with crostini, perhaps with a little salumi and a glass of wine. The no-cook sauce works wonders as a topping for bruschetta. Or use the sauce as a spread in a sandwich of cold cuts and cheese.
The options are almost endless. I include a recipe for no-cook sauce below, but feel free to change it up to suit your tastes.
BASIC TOMATO SAUCE
Note: From Noelle Carter. The tomato sauce recipe makes 3 cups sauce, a little more than is needed for two pizzas. The remainder can be covered and refrigerated for up to one week. This also makes a good dipping sauce and can be quickly simmered for use over pasta.
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons pitted and chopped kalamata olives, from about 10 whole
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor or a blender and add the basil, oregano, garlic, olives and pepper. Pulse the sauce until thoroughly combined and smooth. Taste the sauce and season as needed (canned tomatoes will vary widely in sodium content, resulting in some sauces that require less salt than others). Remove the sauce to a bowl, lightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. This makes about 3 cups tomato sauce.