This is a simple but flavorful spaghetti sauce that Jerri made dozens of times when I was gainfully employed selling recycling equipment and she was a piano teacher and church organist. Since my office was in a western suburb of Minneapolis, and my customers included companies from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Warroad, Minnesota, I usually called to let her know when I thought I would be home for dinner. However, I was sometimes delayed. Anyone who has commuted through the Twin Cities knows what a shower or snow flurries can do to traffic on highways in the Metro area.
Jerri thus became an expert in flexible meal scheduling. Her students began arriving when the school day ended. She usually said goodby to the last one after 6 PM. To accommodate this schedule she assembled a main dish before her first student arrived, put it in the refrigerator and popped it into the oven or put it on the burner at the appropriate time.
She made a lot of wonderful casseroles and soups and learned how to create a spaghetti sauce that seemed to improve the longer she had to wait for me. Her recipe for the sauce reveals her as not just an expert at putting a meal on the table when the family was ready to eat but also as a “make do” cook who was willing to substitute ingredients that she thought would not be rejected by her husband, son and daughter. Her judgment was nearly always good. At least she never had the kinds of disasters I produced from time to time.
Her basic recipe for spaghetti sauce consisted of the first six ingredients listed below. The final seven represent my guesses about quantities of ingredients contained in her note that said something like, “Add some salt and pepper. Anise or fennel seeds and basil if you like them. Thin with water or red wine and smooth it out with some olive oil. If you like the flavor, mushrooms can be added with the garlic.”
As you can see, you can adjust the recipe to whatever is on your spice rack and “make do” with what you have. I think that fennel or anise, basil, wine and olive oil improve the sauce, but it is edible without them.
You can “make do” with whatever you have, so there’s no excuse for not making Jerri’s spaghetti sauce.
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 or 2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 16 oz. can whole tomatoes
1/2 tsp. anise or fennel seed
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 tsp. olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese to pass (if you have some)
Remove the paper from the garlic and mince it. Clean and chop the onion into a quarter inch dice. Chop the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces, reserving the juice. Brown the sausage in a two or three quart saucepan over moderate heat. Drain the grease if necessary and add the garlic and onion and cook them for about two minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, juice, tomato sauce and paste.
Blend the fennel seed, basil, black pepper and salt in a mortar or cup and stir them into the pan. Stir in the wine and olive oil.
Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour or so. Stir occasionally and add wine, water or tomato juice if the sauce becomes too thick.
NOTES: If you include mushrooms, clean and slice them thinly and add them with the garlic.
I sometimes use a mixture of fennel and anise.
You can take this sauce off the heat when it has simmered long enough to suit your taste, then reheat it while the spaghetti is cooking.
This sauce freezes well and keeps for at least three or four months.H