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How to Make a Fast Pasta Sauce

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

Sometimes you just want an easy dinner. A fast pasta sauce will get you there, especially if you keep the basic ingredients in your pantry and/or herb garden. I’m using fresh herbs here, but since you’re going to simmer this, dried herbs work just as well.

The different ingredients to make a fast pasta sauce.

Let’s start cooking

The ingredients are pretty straightforward: an onion (I usually only use half), garlic, vodka (optional), a regular-sized can of tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. That’s it. You can use a larger can of tomatoes if you’re feeding a crowd, and then use the whole onion. Or you can also add cooked Italian sausage or bacon. You can add other vegetables, as well. It’s up to you. You start by slicing your onion and your garlic.

No need to dice or mince either. They’re going to get all whizzed up later in the process. Splash in just enough corn or other veggie oil to cover the bottom of your pan. I do not use olive oil in this application. It burns too easily and the extra virgin oils are just too strongly flavored. You can add a splash later if you really like it. I don’t. Turn the heat to the cool side of medium on your stove’s dial, then add the onions and give them a good stir.

Once the onions are soft, open your can of tomatoes, then add the garlic. Quickly, before the garlic burns (as it will all too easily) pour on a splash of vodka. It’s better if it’s not the fancy stuff, but vodka really does something for the flavor of tomatoes, which is what you want in a fast pasta sauce.

Because it’s so easy to burn garlic, you want to have your can of tomatoes ready to go into the pan. Add them right after the vodka.

Once the tomatoes are in the pan, give them a quick stir, then toss in your herbs. Again, fresh herbs are nice if you have them. But given that we’re trying to crank out a quick dinner with what’s on hand, dried works quite nicely. How much to add depends on how much you like oregano and basil. Experiment. Add salt and pepper, then taste it, adding more salt if it needs it. Or more herbage. Just be careful if you’re using fresh herbs. The sauce is not likely to have gotten cooked enough to flavor the rest of the sauce.

Time to Simmer

Give it another quick stir to mix everything together. Bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down, cover the pan and let it simmer long enough to fold a load of laundry or help someone with their homework, say, 20 minutes. Depending on your stove, you might also want to put the pot on for whatever pasta you’ll be using, add salt, cover it and get it boiling.

Done simmering

Once the sauce has simmered, the fun begins. First add the pasta to the boiling water in the other pot. As for the sauce, you do have the option to try and mush things up by hand, or not mush them at all. You can also use a blender or food processor for this step. But the easiest thing to use is an immersion blender.

Get it into the sauce and start whizzing. I love this device. It saves on clean-up. It does the job quickly. And you don’t have to wait for things to cool before using it. Once your sauce is pureed to the point where you like it – you may like it chunkier than we do, you may not – it should look sort of like below.

Fast pasta sauce in the pan having been pureed.

Rinse off your immersion blender as soon as you’re done blending. You don’t want to be trying to get stuck-on food off the blades. It’s a pain and you can get cut that way. This is also the point where you’ll want to add additional goodies, such as cooked Italian sausage, artichoke hearts, black olives. We add some greens (a mustard variety called mizuna) and black olives to this one.


Drain your pasta while the sauce with the add-ons reheats over low to medium heat. Plate or dish up the pasta into a serving dish, pour some sauce on, set the table, pour the wine or beverage of your choice, and tah-dah! Dinner with a nice, fast pasta sauce. Okay, it’s not the fastest dinner you’ll put on the table, but you’ve got a minimum of cookware involved, it doesn’t take hours and hours to simmer and cook, although you can make it that way, and you’ve got time to relax, set the table, and do whatever before you have to serve everything. And since you probably keep most of the ingredients on hand, it’s a great satisfying meal to make up when your other dinner plans fall through. Like when you forgot you were going to make a pot roast and the meat is still frozen solid.

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