Mom’s Tomato Sauce with Pan-Fried Polenta

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Putting a phrase like “Mom’s Tomato Sauce” in the title of a post seems so pretentious. As if my mom’s cooking is so far beyond the level of what you or your mom could make. I’m basically piloting a low-flying plane around a sold-out football stadium, trailing a ginormous banner that proclaims in all caps: MY MOM’S TOMATO SAUCE IS BETTER THAN YOUR MOM’S. OR ANYONE’S, EVER. SUCKS TO BE YOU. And a buzzed football fan starts yelling uselessly at me in my little biplane as I do a few laps to drive the point in. But then the guy in the row behind him starts yelling too, and it escalates into a brawl, and now there’s a bloody nose and I’m just innocently trying to brag about this sauce.

Don’t worry, I’m not pretentious enough to brag about my mom’s cooking on a football-stadium scale. This is as far as I’ll go. And ridiculous as that totally-impossible situation is, my mother is a darn good cook, people. Your mother is a great cook too, but I would put a hefty bet on the fact that my mom’s tomato sauce is the best. I could probably eat a bowl of it plain with no accompaniment. And I don’t even like tomatoes (true story). This isn’t your runny, odd-smelling, over-seasoned restaurant marinara. It’s chunky, hearty, and respectably seasoned. It’s easy and inexpensive to make. But best of all, it tastes like home.

This is what we start with. My mother is forever brand-loyal to these Cento che’f cut tomatoes, but any 28-oz can will work. In the wrapper is hot Italian sausage. Polenta’s not going in the sauce, it just sneaked in for this picture.

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Cook the Italian sausage, breaking it up into bite-size pieces. This can totally be vegetarian, too. Or you can use ground hamburger or turkey.

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Chop up half the onion and a few cloves of garlic and toss them in with the sausage.

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Once the sausage is cooked, dump in the tomatoes, some dried basil and oregano, bay leaves, and chili flakes.

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Stir and let simmer for 5 minutes or so. The longer you leave it, the more liquid boils away, the chunkier (and better, in my opinion) the sauce is.

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Meanwhile, cut a few slices of polenta and fry them in a little butter until crispy. This was my first time ever eating polenta, so I bought it premade. But if you’re already an expert in making polenta, yours will be way better than this stuff.

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Yummmm.

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Mom’s Tomato Sauce with Pan-Fried Polenta

Serves 1, with leftover sauce for 2-3 more days

1/2 lb hot Italian sausage (optional)

1/2 white onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-oz can chef’s cut tomatoes

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

1 or 2 bay leaves

salt and pepper to taste

butter for polenta

3 slices of pre-made polenta (store-bought or home-made)

Parmesan cheese for serving (I thought I had some when I made this, but I didn’t)

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the Italian sausage. Break it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. When the sausage is browned on the outside and almost fully cooked, add in the onion and cook until soft, 1-2 minutes. Add in the garlic, and cook another 30 seconds, being careful to not let it burn. Reduce heat to medium. Add in the entire can of tomatoes, juice and all, basil, oregano, chili flakes, and bay leaves. Allow to simmer at least 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Meanwhile, add a small pat of butter to a pan over medium-high heat. Once melted, add in the polenta, and cook until the outside is crispy, 2-3 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side.

Arrange polenta slices on a plate, and cover with tomato sauce. Serve with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Sauce will keep in the fridge up to 5 days.

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