Monday night dinner

Few things render a soul more despairing than a sink full of dirty dishes at 8 p.m. on a weeknight—and that’s before you start cooking dinner. I’m going to share what we do on those nights. Don’t blink or you might miss it.

  1. Open can of tomatoes.
  2. Chop onion in half.
  3. Chop a stick of butter in half.
  4. Throw the whole mess in a pot on the stove and add a pinch of salt.

In the winter when good fresh tomatoes are hard to come by, this recipe is perfect. In the height of the summer harvest when tomatoes are bursting with flavor, this recipe is still perfect. It’s for the nights you frankly can’t be bothered.

It’s the kind of meal you cook with a glass of red wine hastily poured and an open package of string cheese to take the edge off until dinner’s ready. In our house, it’s the kind of meal you eat without a shirt, wearing scrubs. (Well, some of us, anyway.)

Chopped parsley

In the lean years of college and medical school, Mike and I ate so much Ragu that the smell of the jarred tomato sauce nearly makes me gag. I’m done with the impostor. You can dress up the real tomato sauce with herbs (basil, parsley) or cheese (fresh mozzarella, parmesan) or cooked meat (sliced sausage, ground beef, pancetta), but it’s hardly necessary.

The point I’m belaboring is the dinner almost makes itself… now if only it did the dishes.

Tomato sauce

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Recipe courtesy of Orangette

Buy good canned tomatoes—San Marzano if you want them straight from Italy, Muir Glen if you want organic. Whole tomatoes or diced work, although Molly Wizenberg from Orangette recommends the former. If you buy whole, simply smush them in the pot with clean hands. After a long day at work, I find this step can be strangely therapeutic. Also, I said half a stick of butter earlier. I lied. It’s a bit more.

2 cups whole, peeled, canned plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices (about one 28-oz. can)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt, to taste

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter, and the onion halves in a medium saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a very slow but steady simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary, for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free from the tomato. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and salt as needed.

Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta.

Yield: Enough sauce for about 1 pound of pasta, or 4 servings