The secret to bold weekday pasta sauce? A little boost of anchovies.

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Quick and easy tomato sauce

Total time:25 minutes

Servings:4 to 6

Total time:25 minutes

Servings:4 to 6


What’s the little container filled with great umami flavor that you keep hidden in the fridge door or pantry shelf? Worcestershire sauce? Miso? Tomato paste? Yes, yes and yes, but more recently I have made sure I never run out of anchovy fillets in oil.

I’m a big fan of tiny fish strips, not because I like to eat them on their own (like my husband does), but because they’re a great way to add that little extra something to so many receipts. More recently, they were an unexpected star ingredient in Claudia Fleming’s Gruyere and Onion Cocktail Cookies. I’ve added them to remoulades sauces, vinaigrettes (and not just for Caesars) and stuffed artichokes, and smashed them in mayonnaise to spread on sandwiches.

Tonight, they can help you get delicious tomato sauce on the table in less than 30 minutes, if you make this pantry-friendly recipe from Odette Williams’ “Simple Pasta.”

Is it easy? Take a 28 ounce can of quality crushed tomatoes and a can of anchovies, then add olive oil, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. It’s so easy.

“You’d think this full-bodied sauce simmered for hours, not just 20 minutes,” Williams wrote in her cookbook.

This flavor comes from these small fish, which can be bought in several ways: in fillets and in oil, which are generally used for cooking; pickled in vinegar, usually to be eaten directly; or salty, which need to be rinsed, plumped and filleted.

Don’t hate the little anchovy. Learn to harness its power.

Here we are talking about the oil variety. Williams recommends 4-6 fillets in this recipe. As I try to do with most recipes, I did it exactly her way the first time around. It was great, but the anchovy flavor was a bit muted for my taste. So next time I sped it up by adding a few small oily fish strips. I loved him even more.

Also, I tried it with fresh oregano and garlic, and for an even more flavorful version, with dried oregano and garlic powder. Both were delicious.

Williams calls pomodoro sauce in her cookbook because she makes it with canned plum tomatoes. She says the recipe was given to her by an Italian-American friend, who credits cookbook author Marcella Hazan, famous for her simple and delicious sauces.

Marcella Hazan’s Italian cooking legacy lives on under her husband’s care

During this often hectic holiday season, this is a great little recipe to bookmark because you can use it in so many ways. Pour it over pizza dough, mix it with store-bought dumplings, or make a shakshuka. It freezes well too, so make a double batch and freeze it in portions to have on hand for months to come.

Bring your favorite pasta to a boil, bring the sauce to a simmer, and you’ll have time to whip up a light green salad and open a bottle of red wine for a quick weeknight dinner.

If this sauce seems too mundane, also check out Williams’ quick-to-make variations for amatriciana, arrabbiata, and puttanesca sauces.

Quick and easy tomato sauce

Storage: Refrigerate sauce for up to 4 days; freeze for up to 3 months.

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  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 to 6 anchovy fillets, packed in oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
  • One can (28 ounces) San Marzano crushed tomatoes
  • Fine salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 pound spaghetti or your favorite pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • Grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)
  • Fresh basil leaves, for serving (optional)

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil for about 1 minute. Add the anchovies and cook slowly, breaking them up with a wooden spoon, until they melt in the oil, about 5 minutes. (Adjust the heat as needed, without letting the oil get too hot, so the anchovies will fall apart rather than fry.)

Add garlic and oregano and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer the sauce until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and add more salt or pepper, if needed.

Serve over your favorite pasta and with parmesan cheese and fresh basil, if desired.

VARIANTS: To make an amatriciana sauce: omit the anchovies and add 8 ounces of diced pancetta, smoked bacon or guanciale (without the skin); sauté in oil until crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Omit the garlic and oregano and add 3/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes. Add the tomatoes and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Let simmer 15 to 20 minutes. If you want the sauce to be a little sweeter, add 1 teaspoon of light brown sugar.

To make the arrabbiata: Omit the anchovies and double the number of garlic cloves. Add 1 or 2 small seeded and finely chopped fresh red peppers and sauté with the garlic. Add 1 tsp light brown sugar and an additional 1/2 tsp salt and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

To make puttanesca: Prepare the sauce as directed, but before adding the tomatoes, add 3/4 cup chopped olives (oil-dried black, kalamata, or green). Then add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of capers and 1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Per serving (1/2 cup plain sauce, 1 1/3 cups pasta, 1 tbsp parmesan cheese), based on 6

Calories: 435; Total fat: 12 g; Saturated fat: 2g; Cholesterol: 7mg; Sodium: 354mg; Carbohydrates: 68g; Dietary fiber: 5g; Sugar: 8g; Protein: 15g

This analysis is an estimate based on the available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietitian or nutritionist.

Adapted from “Simple Pasta” by Odette Williams (Ten Speed ​​Press, 2022).

Tested by Ann Maloney; questions by e-mail to [email protected].

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