When I realized I was moving out with very little cooking knowledge, I decided that I wanted to put together a file of my friends’ favorite recipes. I’m not a culinary genius, but I can follow along with words on a page with very few disasters, and it seems like the easiest way to learn how to cook and gather some references without the panic that I find goes along with fruitlessly googling recipes for pork.

Before I even started this project, I knew that the first recipe I wanted to learn to make was my mom’s tomato sauce. This was definitely the staple in my house growing up— for a while as a kid, it was the only thing I would eat. It’s also the recipe that my mom says she never makes as well as her own mother, who never made it quite as delicious as her mother, and so on and so forth. All of this, of course, means it’s also the recipe I’m the most nervous to cook. I plan on making it first to rip the bandage off.

It’s actually a really simple recipe: some canned tomatoes, seasonings, it doesn’t need to be babysat. However, in true Italian mother fashion, there’s no measurements; everything is to taste. The only rule is, as my mother always tells me (because her grandmother always told her), “The more you put in, the more you taste.”

She did give me one fair warning— because she’s seen how liberal I am when it comes to spice in foods— to keep the amount of red pepper flakes to a minimum. “They will get spicier as they cook,” She warned me gravely. “You can always add them to the pasta once it’s plated.”