This is the sauce my kids love; and it's the basis from which you can go on to make All'Amatriciana (Angry pasta! With Bacon/pancetta & Chilli), or add basil, or add orange juice (Yep! It's nice...).
Yes, you can do it with chopped fresh tomatoes, but if you've got a big family (yep!) and time is an issue (yep!), well, there are a few foods that are comfortable being canned, and a tomato is one of 'em.
2x 400g tinned plum tomatoes
Salt, pepper, sugar
First, put your biggest saucepan on the heat, full of salted water. You're gonna need that for the pasta...
Heat a big frying pan on high heat, add a generous tablespoon of olive oil, then add the chopped onion, lower the heat a bit and fry until soft, not golden.
Add one teaspoon of sugar, salt to taste, and pepper. (Note; the salt debate. People are getting so scared of salt these days; dammit, you gotta season!! Why have they used salt for thousands of years? Because it brings out the flavour! Don't get me started... Anyways, the place you gotta look for over-seasoning is on those skinny chips you get from fast food restaurants, that's why this whole salt panic started in the first place. So season away...)
By now it should be almost boiling, so I put an anti-splash guard over the pan, then lower the heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes.
Another note: the difference between a good and a great sauce, my kids have made me realise, is how much you reduce it. It seems they like it best when I have left just a little of the 'watery' juice. If you take it off too early, it doesn't have that slightly concentrated flavour. Beware though, of cooking it that couple of minutes more; then you've just made yourself Tomato Paste!
Ok, blend it. Some people might not bother, but children? They hate lumpy bits!
Throw some penne in the boiling water (yes, it's dried. We're talking families here), and cook according to manufacturers instructions, probably about 10 mins. Over-cooked pasta is a nightmare, so keep testing it by biting a small piece until there is just the tiniest bit of "bite" left in the pasta (hence the expression "al dente". Dente? Dentist? Teeth? Latin...)
Drain the pasta, get rid of the last bit of starch by pouring boiling water over the drained pasta, then return to the pan, or the frying pan if you wish, and stir in as much sauce as you want over a low heat.
We're just as happy having grated cheddar over this as we are grated parmesan. But grate it fresh!
While we're here, Penne All'Amatriciana: in a small frying pan, melt a knob of butter in with a small amount of olive oil and add one of those small packets of chopped pancetta you can find in most supermarkets. On medium/low heat, when the fat on the pancetta has gone translucent, add a teaspoon of chilli flakes and turn off the heat.
When the penne is ready, drained, and back in the pan, pour the pancetta/chilli mix over the pasta then add as much tomato sauce as you want.
Two recipes in one!