Mark Bittman, author of "Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix" shares the master recipe for his easy, three-ingredient tomato sauce, plus eight different ways to jazz things up.
Mark Bittman's Universal Tomato Sauce
Makes about 3 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 onion, chopped
12-16 ounce canned tomatoes, drained and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Put 3 tablespoons olive oil or butter in a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot or the butter is melted, add 1 chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 2 or 3 minutes. Add a 1½- to 2-pound can of tomatoes (drained and chopped) and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the mixture comes together and thickens, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasonings, and serve (or let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to several days; reheat gently before serving).
REMIX #1: Spicy, garlicky tomato sauce
Omit the onion. Lightly crush and peel 2 to 10 (or even more) garlic cloves; cook in the oil along with a few dried chiles or a pinch or more of hot red chile flakes over medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Raise the heat, add the tomatoes, and cook as directed. Garnish with parsley or basil.
REMIX #2: Meat sauce
Start by cooking up to 1 pound ground beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or turkey with the oil and onion until it browns, 5 to 10 minutes, before adding the tomatoes. You can also use sausage; just break it up into chunks as it cooks. Adjust the heat so the meat browns without burning.
REMIX #3: Fresh tomato sauce
A superb option and useful for all the variations here, but only with fresh, in-season tomatoes (I like this very much with butter). Substitute chopped ripe tomatoes (preferably peeled and seeded, about 2 cups) for the canned. Cooking time will be about the same. Garnish with lots of Parmesan or chopped parsley or basil.
REMIX #4: Tomato sauce with aromatic vegetables
With the onion, add ½ cup each minced carrot and peeled and minced celery; cook until tender, about 10 minutes, before adding the tomatoes. Especially good puréed. Garnish with cheese or parsley or basil.
REMIX #5: Tomato sauce with fresh herbs
At the last minute, add ¼ to ½ cup chopped fresh basil, parsley, dill, mint, or a combination. Or add smaller amounts of stronger herbs (fresh at the last minute, dried along with the tomatoes): sage (10 leaves), rosemary (1 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh), thyme (½ teaspoon dried or 1 teaspoon fresh), oregano or marjoram (1 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh), or tarragon (½ teaspoon fresh or ¼ teaspoon dried). Garnish: Parmesan or more herbs.
REMIX #6: Cheesy tomato sauce
Parmesan is standard but hardly essential, and cheeses can be combined. In a warmed bowl, just before adding pasta and sauce, put in ½ cup or more ricotta, goat cheese, or mascarpone for a creamy sauce; a couple tablespoons of grated Parmesan, grana padano, manchego, or other hard cheese for a stronger-tasting one; or up to a cup of grated fresh mozzarella for a gooey, pizzalike pasta dish. Garnish with parsley or basil.
REMIX #7: Tomato sauce with seafood
When the sauce is ready, stir in up to 1 pound peeled shrimp, lump crabmeat, or chopped cleaned squid or scallops. Reduce the heat so it bubbles gently, cover, and cook until the seafood is warmed or cooked through as necessary, 1 to 5 minutes. Or, add a 6-ounce can of oil-packed tuna to the pan when you add the tomatoes.
REMIX #8: Puttanesca sauce (A Roman classic)
When you add the garlic to the olive oil, stir in a few oil-packed anchovies (and omit or at least reduce the salt); mash them up a bit as you stir. Then add 2 tablespoons drained capers, some hot red chile flakes if you like, and ½ cup pitted black olives (the wrinkled, oil-cured type, like Moroccan, works best). Then add the tomatoes. Garnish with chopped parsley or basil.