All of us have a favorite tomato sauce, that we’re fond of splashing onto a bowl of pasta or atop a pizza crust. Too often we settle for a commercial variety because using raw tomatoes to concoct your own sauce can be intimidating. Actually, it’s surprisingly simple, the key being the quality and ripeness of the tomatoes. If ever you’re going to give sauce making a try, now is the time. Homegrown tomatoes are at their peak and readily available from gardeners and markets.
The memory of canning vast amounts of garden produce returned this week when I decided to make sauce from fresh tomatoes. It wasn’t that I had a bumper crop. I had only two Super Sauce tomatoes given to me by my nephew, a retired pilot turned rancher and serious gardener. He says that Burpee’s meaty and nearly seedless variety is great for sauce and that just one two-pounder will fill a sauce jar.
All I wanted was a nice sauce for a pasta dish or two. So I turned to Marcella Hazan for a refresher on making sauce from fresh tomatoes. The dogmatic diva is to Italian cooking what Julia Child is to French cuisine. Like most of us, I appreciate a bit of confidence in cookbook writers. I checked the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for her opinions. She had a great many.
Among her suggestions was a sauce alla carrettiera, a simple dish made by Roman peasants using the most abundant ingredients available. You merely simmer garlic in olive oil with chopped tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper for at least 30 minutes or until the sauce is the consistency you prefer.
Hazan pointed out that you can cook tomato sauce slow or fast; take 4 minutes or 4 hours, but it always cooks by evaporation, which concentrates the flavors. You can use fully-ripe plum tomatoes (they’re less watery), or a canned variety when vine-ripe tomatoes are unavailable. The sauce should never be covered, she said, or it will be “bland, steamed and weakly.”
With all that in mind, I decided to give the recipe a “small batch” test using my new saucy tomatoes. I threw in some overly-ripe Big Boys, too, and had the dish underway lickity-split. But it took about 45 minutes to achieve the consistency I wanted. I dabbed a chunk of bread in the sauce to test the outcome. It was thick, hearty, and a bit sweet, though it didn’t have a drop of added sugar.
I almost considered buying 20 pounds of tomatoes at the farmers’ market and going back to home canning. Almost. But then, Hazan pointed out the sauce could be frozen, thawed and simmered for 10 minutes when needed. That’s the way to go.
By all means, make this incredible sauce while there’s still an abundance of vine-ripe tomatoes to be had. The memory will linger with you all winter.
Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Basil
Ingredients: Serves 4
- 1 large bunch fresh basil
- 2 pounds ripe tomatoes (blanched: plunge in boiling water for a minute or less. Drain, cool, skin and chop)
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lb. pasta