This week I wanted to talk about tomato sauces. What is the secret to a good, classic tomato sauce? Is that the ever talked about tablespoon of sugar added to ”cut the acidity”? Sigh… Well if you can not handle the acidity of a tomato sauce, try ketchup, which actually is another from of this beautiful and tasty fruit’s offerings.
Tomato sauces can be categorized in to two; from fresh or canned tomatoes. Fresh version requires a phenomenal tomato that has never been refrigerated, a good understanding of variety of this fruit and the dish is going to be used on. Sounds very complex isn’t it? Well it is. You can not treat a cherry tomato and a beefsteak the same way. Is it going to be used on fish or meat, grill or stew, olive oil or butter? There is a certain way you need to temper your pan. When you watch a cook making a fresh tomato sauce, the process will look easy enough. But to get there is the problem. So I am going to skip this version of this sauce which is going to be too difficult and long to explain. I am going to give you a recipe that is very convenient, delicious, can be done any season and would stand up to any dish.
First things first; NO SUGAR! Secondly a mid priced (do not pay more than $3 a can to me it is a rip off), good quality and Italian canned tomatoes (not Italian style). Third, abundance of garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Fourth, lemon juice. Fifth, fresh basil or Italian parsley if you can afford or can find. When you make the base you can vary it into any form; add fennel and olives and use it for seafood, saute sausages and add on top for ragu or north American bolognese, chilies for Arrabiata etc… The ingredients are;
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 tblsp of freshly minced garlic or sliced
1 can of good quality canned tomatoes, 800 ml, san marzanos if the price is not more than $3
1 juicy lemon
2 oz fresh basil leaves
Get a wide pan with heavy bottom. It is crucial to use a heavy pot or pan, because one of the thing that ruins a canned tomato sauce is scorched tomato taste which actually the sauce picks up on faster than you can imagine. Once it is in, well gone baby gone. So we will need a spatula too.
Heat up your pan on medium heat for 2 minutes. Add 1/2 the olive oil,1/2 the basil leaves and 1/2 the garlic and fry until golden brown. You can add any flavorings at this stage as well. Fennel seeds, cumin, ginger, thyme, chilies… sky is the limit.
Pour in your tomatoes and add a healthy pinch of your favorite salt. For a meatier sauce, you can add a beef stock cube or red wine at this stage. (Try Knorr’s jellied cubes, they work wonders) Turn you heat medium high to reduce rapidly and get a splash screen on top of your pan.
Why we reduce the sauce rapidly is due to two reasons. First to preserve the pretty red color and second to keep the fresh taste of the tomato. As tomato cooks it will pick up a greyish hue in color and start to develop a complex taste after 30 minutes which we both do not need in a basic tomato sauce. The screen is pretty important otherwise you will need a decent cleaning job on your stove. A good investment for your kitchen only for couple of bucks.
Every couple of minutes scrape the sides of your pot or pan. If tomato crust already has developed on the sides, do not scrape and let them be. Just use a ladle to take the sauce out rather than pouring it out. When your sauce starts to reach a thick oatmeal consistency turn it off. If you are going to use the sauce later, cool it down very fast and restore in an AIR-TIGHT container. Tomato sauce picks up on the dry air staleness and the other odors of the fridge very fast. Ideally never refrigerate your sauce and use immediately. Resting any sauce in the refrigerator will develop complexity in flavor, but will kill the acidity and the freshness, which is the heart and soul of a basic tomato sauce. Just before being used, like any other sauce, our beauty HAS TO BE FINISHED! Add the rest of the basil leaves, juice of 1 lemon, olive oil and remaining garlic. Adjust the salt level to your liking. Serve accordingly.