Classic Italian Tomato Sauce

September 3, 2012

Classic Italian Tomato Sauce

From Lynne Rossetto Kasper (adapted by Jan Dowling, Tucson CSA)

Sauce enough for 1 pound of pasta

Serves 6 to 8 as a first course, 4 to 6 as a main dish

Never seed tomatoes for this or any other sauce. Much of the tomatoes flavor is contained in its center, in the pulp and gel that surround seeds and even possibly the seeds themselves. The flavor difference is dramatic.

So fresh tasting and yet deep and complex, this is ideal for freezing or canning, since the recipe requires the least work of all cooked tomato sauces. With this technique, everything — tomatoes, olive oil and seasonings — goes into the pot more or less at once, usually with no pre sauté, and simmers until thick. Instead of the distinctively layered tastes of sauté-based sauces, the simmered sauce is softer, more tomatoey and mellow.

Use it for all kinds of dishes from pasta and pizza to pot roast, soup and polenta. Its seasonings and the proportions of ingredients vary from house to house, but the technique rarely changes.

Cook to Cook: It is essential to cook this sauce in a 4-quart saucepan to strike the proper balance between intensifying flavors by reduction and cooking off moisture slowly enough for all the sauce’s flavor elements to fully ripen.

When increasing quantities, use a pot with the same proportions between cooking surface and pan height.

Italian cooks make this sauce with unpeeled fresh tomatoes or canned ones, passing it through a food mill once it’s cooked. If you don’t have a food mill, and you prefer not to have the peels in your sauce, you can peel the tomatoes first: Cut out the stem end; cut a shallow X in the bottom; drop tomatoes into boiling water for several seconds; immediately remove from water and transfer to large bowl filled with ice water

For a more rustic juicy sauce with bits of tomato, roughly chop it in a blender or food processor. This is a matter of personal choice.

  • 5 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 12 large fresh basil leaves, torn (oregano, fennel seeds, bouquet garni or herbes de province all work well too, or in combination!)
  • 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 -1/2 pounds mixed ripe delicious tomatoes, cored and possibly peeled (do not seed), or 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained
  • chopped garlic to taste
  • extra seasoning ideas: throw in some dry white wine or a generous  splash of balsamic vinegar
  • touch of hot pepper flakes

1. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the garlic, basil, onion, salt and pepper, and oil. Heat over medium-high heat 30 seconds, no more. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands as they go into the pan. Bring to a lively bubble, uncovered, and cook 30 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and reduced by half. Stir often, watching for sticking or scorching. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand 15 minutes. Then taste for seasoning.

2. If desired, pass the sauce through a food mill or chop it in a blender or food processor until in small pieces. If desired, the sauce can be cooled and refrigerated up to 4 days, or frozen up to 6 months. Zip Lock freezer bags work well; lay on cookie sheet or tray in freezer so they stay flat; they’ll stack when frozen.

3. As you can see, this sauce lends itself to being creative with seasonings and texture, so go for it!

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