Classic Tomato Sauce
Andy Anderson !
So, here’s my two-cent’s worth… Actually, it’s my Aunt Josephine’s two-cent’s worth. In this recipe, everything is fresh; including the tomatoes. So, for what it’s worth, here’s Aunt Josephine’s classic tomato sauce.
The recipe is simple, but the secret to a great, fresh-tasting pasta sauce is not… I repeat, NOT cooking it all day.
Or as Aunt Josephine used to say: Cooking it to death.
1/4 colive oil, extra virgin
1medium onion, finely diced, about 1 pound, (450g)
10 ozcarrot, finely chopped, or better yet, grated (290g)
1 Tbspfresh, chopped oregano,. or 1 teaspoon dried
2 clovegarlic, minced
1 Tbspsalt, table variety
1/2 tspblack pepper, freshly ground
1/4 cwhite wine
2 Tbsptomato paste
2 lbfarm fresh plum tomatoes
How to Make Classic Tomato Sauce
- In a small bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, and white wine until fully incorporated, and then set aside.
Chef's Note: I was about ten, when I first watched my Aunt Josephine make this recipe, she poured some wine into a bowl, and some into a small glass. She looked at me winked, and said: Some for the recipe, and some for me. I got my first taste of wine that day...
- Remove the stems from the tomatoes, turn them up-side-down, and cut a small X on the bottom of the tomato with a small pairing knife. Just deep enough to pierce the skin.
- Blanch the Tomatoes
Fill a large bowl with water and ice. The bowl should be big enough to hold the ice, water, and the tomatoes.
Put a large pot of water on the boil, and then add a few tablespoons of table salt.
The pot should be large enough to hold the boiling water, and two tomatoes at a time without boiling over.
Carefully put the tomatoes into the rolling boiling water... two at a time, for about 30 to 60 seconds. In most cases you should be able to see the skin, where you made the X, begin pulling away from the flesh of the tomato.
Immediately, move the tomatoes from the boiling water to the ice bath.
Continue the process until all the tomatoes have been properly blanched, and are sitting happily in the ice bath.
You should be able to go to the bottom of the tomato, where you made the X cut, and simply grab and easily peel back the skin.
Chef's Note: What is Blanching?
Moving the tomatoes from a hot to a cold liquid is called blanching. It helps to loosen the skin for peeling. But that’s not all, in addition to helping in the peeling process, blanching helps to set the bright green color of some vegetables, and keeps other vegetables from turning gray like: asparagus, greens, peas, and green beans. It’s also used for preparing vegetables for freezing.
The ice bath shocks the vegetable (I would be pretty shocked if you dropped me into an ice bath), and quickly stops the cooking process that was initiated by the hot water.
- Use a small paring knife to dig out the tough part at the top of the tomato that held the stem.
Quarter the tomatoes, and then place into a food processor fitted with an S-blade, and add the tomato paste/wine mixture.
Chef’s Note: The tomato paste is the only canned vegetable we’re using in this recipe. Tomato Paste is cooked down tomatoes, to the point where they can be scooped with a spoon but will not flow. Very thick, like peanut butter. Tomato paste is generally thinned with wine, broth or water. Just a small amount added to soups, chili and stews gives tomato flavor while helping to thicken the stock. In this case, the tomato paste, and wine mixture will compliment the fresh tomatoes and add some needed body to the sauce.
This is called building "layers" of flavor.
- Give the tomatoes a few quick pulses in the food processor.
Chef’s Note: This step determines the consistency of your tomato sauce. Some cooks like to process until the tomatoes are almost the consistency of a puree. Aunt Josephine preferred hers a bit chunky, and so do I.
Chef's Note: If you don't have a food processor, or you just don't want to use it, you can always put them on a cutting board, and have at them with your trusty kitchen knife, and then put them into a bowl, and add the wine.
Reserve the chopped tomatoes.
Chef's Tip: To save on cleaning another bowl, you can just leave them in the bowl of the food processor.
- Variation on a theme.
If you want a deeper flavor to the sauce try this. Don't mix the tomato paste with the wine. Instead, in step 4, only add the tomatoes and the wine to the food processor, and continue with step 5… don’t add the tomato paste.
Then, add the tomato paste with the other ingredients in step 9.
Cooking the tomato paste a bit will concentrate its flavor, and also help to infuse that deep tomato taste into the herbs, onions, and carrots.
Continue with the rest of the recipe, as written.
- Add the olive oil to a large pot, and heat over medium heat.
Chef's Note: This pot needs to be big enough to eventually hold all of the ingredients.
- Add the chopped onions, and grated carrots, then cook stirring often, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes.
Chef’s Note: The whole process will come to a screeching halt if you let any of the ingredients brown, or burn. The onions should be lightly sizzling in the oil, but not frying.
So, that 6-8 minute time is just a suggestion. Keep an eye on the veggies.
Fresh Versus Dried Herbs
Dried herbs are generally more potent and concentrated than fresh herbs, so you'll need less. The ratio is typically three times the amount of fresh herbs as dry. This recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon of dried… a teaspoon is 1/3 of a tablespoon.
How to Store Herbs
Fresh herbs should be wrapped in a paper towel, stored in a resealable plastic bag, and then placed into the refrigerator. Depending on how fresh they were when you bought them, you should get an addition week to ten days use out of them.
Dried herbs should be stored out of the light and in a cool, dry place. Once that jar has opened, the herbs will begin to lose their potency. A general rule is:
Whole dried: 2 years.
Cut, dried: 1 year.
Powered: 6 months.
Of course the best approach is to grow your own, and just cut what you need. Time to go back to the farm.
- Add the bay leaves, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, and continue to cook; stirring often, an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Don't let the veggies brown or burn.
Chef's Note: The chemical nature of the salt will work with the proteins in the vegetables to pull the different flavors of this sauce together; however, a tablespoon of salt, is a lot of salt.
You might try adding half the salt, and then in step 10, add more as the sauce is simmering. Assuming you feel it needs any more.
You can always add more salt, if needed; however, it's kind of hard to remove it, if it's too much.
- Add the reserved chopped tomatoes, and slowly simmer for about 30 minutes.
As the sauce is simmering, taste and add additional salt as you go.
Chef's Note: Adding salt at the end of the cooking process makes the sauce taste salty... Adding it as you cook makes the sauce taste seasoned.
Chef's Note: Remember to fish out and discard the bay leaves before serving.
- Additional Cooking Note:
This recipe works best with fresh ingredients; however, there are times when you just can't find any good, fresh tomatoes. Personally, I find the basic tomatoes that you find at your local super grocer bland and tasteless lumps (I miss the mom-and-pop grocery stores that I grew up with).
I have tried this recipe with two “store bought” varieties: One in a can, and one in a box.
Hunts Whole Plum Tomatoes: In a can, but I’ll admit that they do have good flavor, and as opposed to other specialty brands, they are relatively easy to find in most stores.
Pomi Whole Plum Tomatoes: They come in a box, and get very high ratings from other chefs as to freshness, and taste; however, they do cost more than Hunts tomatoes and not all stores carry the Pomi brand.
- Serving Suggestions:
You could plate up a bunch of pasta: Capellini, Fusilli Bucati, Pici... your choice, and ladle some sauce on top. Add a bit of freshly-grated parmesan, maybe a sprinkle of crushed red pepper, and dig in. Don't forget the wine, and a nice loaf of crusty bread.
This sauce also goes well with my Aunt Josephine's meatballs, or anybody else's meatballs for that matter.
Whatever you do, share it around a table with good friends and family.
Remember, friends don't let friends eat alone... share the love.
Keep the faith, and keep cooking.