In the Pantry: Tomato Sauce 101

If you love to cook, learning how to make a basic tomato sauce is a must. With just a few staple ingredients--olive oil, pureéd tomatoes, onion and garlic--you can make a delicious sauce that can serve as the base for fancier versions. This week on "In the Pantry," host Aida Mollenkamp shares her favorite recipe for a basic tomato sauce, and shows you how to transform it to make Vodka Cream Sauce and Meat Sauce.

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Makes 24 cups, or three batches, of sauce

You'll use this sauce as the base for the Vodka Sauce and Meat Sauce. Mollenkamp recommends using San Marzano or Pomi canned tomatoes because of their low acidity level. "You'll end up with a better-tasting sauce," she said. You can use another brand of crushed puréed tomatoes, but you might need to adjust the end flavors with a little salt or even sugar to balance out the tomato sauce flavor. Can't find crushed pureéd tomatoes? Buy canned whole tomatoes and use a blender to pureé them.

1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
3 onions (yellow or white), finely chopped
1 head of garlic - about 12-13 cloves, peeled and chopped
3 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
2 tsp. kosher salt

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the chopped onion. Season well with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 5-10 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Bring the tomatoes up to a slight boil, and then lower the temperature to medium-low and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until flavors meld. If you plan to make Vodka Cream Sauce and Meat Sauce, set aside two batches of sauce, 8 cups each.

Makes about 8 cups

"The Vodka Cream Sauce is typically served with basil," said Mollenkamp. "So what I like to do is add in a couple of sprigs of basil and just let it sit for about 2-3 minutes right before I serve it, so there's a delicate flavor but not too intense."

8 cups of Basic Tomato Sauce
1/4 cup of vodka
1/4 cup of heavy cream
A few basil sprigs

Combine the tomato sauce, vodka and heavy cream over medium heat until it bubbles and the vodka smell has cooked off, about 15 minutes. Add a couple of basil sprigs to the sauce and let it sit for 2-3 minutes right before serving. Add in your cooked pasta of choice to the pan to coat and warm through.

Makes about 8 cups

"This isn't the most traditional way to make meat sauce but it's a really easy way to make it," said Mollenkamp. "Make sure that when you add the meat to the sauce, it has been browned and cooked all the way through. That way, you just need to briefly heat it up in the tomato sauce."

8 cups of Basic Tomato Sauce
1 pound of ground pork

Brown ground pork until cooked all the way through. Add the tomato sauce and heat until sauce is warmed. Serve sauce over cooked pasta.

For more cooking tips and tricks, check out host Aida Mollenkamp's book, Keys to the Kitchen.

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