How do you pick the best of the best from among 300 mouth-watering spaghetti sauce recipes? First, you don’t cook them all, at least not on the stove. You cook them in your head: you go through the steps, imagine how the ingredients would taste together, draw upon every scrap of experience you have with herb combinations and cooking procedures. You go to bed at night after hours of reading recipes with a weird phantom aftertaste of tomato at the back of your tongue. You chop and stir in your dreams.
You group together recipes that are similar, and look for slight advantages of tastiness, or simplicity, or healthfulness (or pure delicious sinfulness). You set aside the ones that don’t give specific amounts, knowing even so that the cooks who submitted those are possibly the best cooks of all. You set aside the ones that start with a canned spaghetti sauce base like Prego or Contadina, even though some of your own best sauces have used just such shortcuts. You try not to get too sentimental over the ones that came from Mama’s Mama, because one can’t buy the secret ingredients of love and tradition at the store.
Finally, you just quit agonizing and make choices. Life, and spaghetti sauce contests, are not fair.
Spaghetti Sauce Recipes:
• Herbed Tomato Spaghetti Sauce
• Sauce with Meatballs and Italian Sausage
• Hearty-Y Tomato Sauce
• Spaghetti Sauce Puttanesca
• Throw-The-Diet-Out-The-Window Sauce
• Calcutta Pasta Sauce
• Tomato Sauce with Orange and Basil
• Angela's Squid Spaghetti
• Baked Tomato Sauce
• Heat Wave Spaghetti Sauce
• Family Recipe
• Evergreen Spaghetti
• Roasted Tomato Sauce with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
• Summer Spaghetti with Gazpacho Sauce
The Ins and Outs
We received an overwhelming number of sauce recipes that were very, very close to identical: a can of peeled tomatoes, a smaller can of tomato puree, a smaller can of tomato paste. Onion, garlic, celery, pepper, maybe a carrot. Various amounts of dried oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme. Pinch of sugar. Bay leaf. This recipe is American goodness incarnate, comfort food at its best. We could make a monument to it, but not award an individual prize among all the similar entries. It would have amounted to drawing straws. So if that’s your kind of spaghetti sauce, you’ll just have to know in your heart that you are a Good Cook.
We set aside some recipes that included things we’ve never eaten and probably couldn’t if we wanted to: coon, conch, and certain other animals of uncertain phylum, order, or family.
We perked right up at sauces that included interesting flavors such as fennel, mint, allspice, lime juice, epazote, coffee, chocolate, angostura bitters. You’ll find some such nontraditional ingredients among our winners. We applauded those cooks who are trying unusual herb varieties: cinnamon or anise basil, lemon or oregano thyme.
In making the choices, we tried hard to strike a balance between the familiar and the startling, the simple and the challenging, the fast-cooking and the slow-cooking, the everyday and the Sunday best. We hope you will enjoy them all.
About The Makings
Some ingredients were overwhelming favorites. ‘Roma’ Italian plum tomatoes were the love apples of choice because they reduce to a nice thick sauce without the addition of tomato paste or other thickeners. Basil was the dominant herb, with oregano running second. Many cooks, we noticed, prefer dried oregano to fresh, perhaps because some oregano plants sold in this country to herb gardeners have inferior (or no) flavor. Flat-leaved Italian parsley appeared more often than the curly sort, even though the latter is so cute and so easy to get. Eggplant and zucchini tie for favorite vegetable additives. Lots of cooks are onto the sweet goodness of Vidalia or Walla Walla onions, as well as red ones. Many meat sauces used turkey instead of beef, and a heartening number of recipes were deliberately health-conscious.