This meal was so good, it's gonna take both of us to write this post. Betsy's writing the first part, about how to actually make awesome sauce....
This is my (Betsy's) method for tomato sauce. It was originally based on a recipe I found online, but I ditched that pretty quickly, and this turned out well anyways.
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped up as little as possible
a spoonful of minced garlic
1/2 chopped onion
1 can of tomato sauce
3 inches of carrot, chopped really really tiny*
1 stick of celery, chopped really really tiny*
This begins exactly the same way that just about every other thing we've made begins: with garlic and onion getting sauteed in vegetable oil along with a little salt and pepper.
Then I added the carrots and celery, sauteed them for a few minutes, and then added the tomatoes and basil, salt, and pepper.
~At this point, I had this bizarro fantasy that I could make a tomato sauce the old fashioned Italian grandmother way, without any canned goods. But it just ended up looking goopy and floppy and sad. I kept simmering it, covered, for about 45 minutes, hoping it would magically transform into a velvety marinara sauce -- but it was not to be. So I gave in and slowly added the entire can of tomato sauce, about a quarter of the can at a time.
And, wonder of wonders, after heating it, cooking it for about 10 more minutes, and checking on the spices, it tasted good! As in, lick-the-spoon good!
One important thing about this is not adding too much seasoning.** Since the tomatoes break down and everything simmers for a pretty long time, anything you put in the beginning will get really concentrated; the last tomato sauce I made had way too much black pepper and ended up getting thrown out after sulking around in a leftover container for two weeks.
Fortunately, this sauce evaded that sad fate and ended up getting sloshed over stuffed shells for a labor-intensive but super delicious meal.
*or you can chop them big and have massive chunks of vegetables floating around in your tomato sauce, but I didn't do that because it sounds gross.
** except basil. I don't think you could put too much basil in this. We would have done oregano too, but we don't have any because we are poor. All you richies out there in internet-land should try oregano.
...and I'm writing the second part, about stuffed shells. This is pretty easy, and it's fancy-schmancy, and is good for snacks or dinner or hors d'eurves, depending on how many you make.
First, get some jumbo shells (pasta) and boil them. While they're on the stove, get a bowl and mix ricotta cheese (with a regular cereal or soup spoon, one good-sized spoonful per shell), frozen spinach (which should be de-thawed by now), and parmesan cheese. If you've cooked some ground Italian sausage or ground beef (preferably seasoned), mix that in as well.
When she shells are cooked, drain the water. Take each shell and fill it up with a good-sized spoonful of your ricotta cheese mixture, then put it on a cookie sheet. When you've got all your shells done, cover them with sauce and sprinkle them with mozzarella cheese. Stick them in the oven until the cheese is melted.
Then, eat them, because they are very good.