October 24, 2008

My Nephew's Tomato Sauce

Throw away those jars of supermarket tomato sauce right now! I am about to show you a way to make a great marinara sauce that is almost as simple as boiling the pasta. My nephew Ryan recently introduced me to this one. He credits Marcella Hazan but I don't know which book of hers and as far as I'm concerned, it's Ryan's sauce.

The basic recipe is as follows:
2 cans whole San Marzano plum tomatoes *, cut in half, with juices
1 onion, peeled & cut in half
1/2 stick butter
salt & pepper

Put everything in a pot. Cook for a while.
Remove onion.
Serve over pasta with grated parmesan.

Now that was was easy, wasn't it??

*The brand of tomatoes is KEY. Ryan and I both love these:

We buy them at Whole Foods and I think the brand name itself is San Marzano. They are domestically grown tomatoes but they are so flavorful, bright red and firm that I thought for a long time that they were imported. There is probably some provenance-name infringement lawsuit coming their way one day as the San Marzano region in Italy is renowned for their plum tomatoes and may have some sort of copyright thing on the name. But let's not tell anyone in San Marzano, Italy about them because I'd hate to see them disappear off the shelves. If you can't find these tomatoes, then make sure you do use imported San Marzano ones. There really is a difference in taste between those and basic Hunt's or Redpack.

Here are a few other pointers:

You can cut the tomatoes on a cutting board, but I recommend one with grooves on the edges or you end up with tomato juice everywhere. Alternatively, you can use my method, which is to slice them with scissors right into the pot. This also can be messy - watch out for exploding tomato seeds and juice! You should wear an apron and a shirt you don't care about. I dump the whole can into the pot, then fish around with (clean) hands for the tomatoes and cut them underneath the juice so that any exploding seeds stay under the surface.

If you prefer a thick sauce, you can leave out the juice from can but I hate to waste it and usually opt to include it but cook longer (see below).

The sauce is typically cooked at a low simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you have more time, you can keep cooking it for up to 3 hours for an even more yummy sauce. The tomato flavor will concentrate with more cooking as the tomatoes reduce.

I like to smooth out the sauce with my hand-held immersion blender but you can also leave it chunky which is how Ryan likes his.

You can add browned ground beef (or mix of beef & pork); browned sausage, fresh basil, etc. but this sauce is really very good on its own. The butter gives it enough depth that it doesn't need other embellishments, especially over ravioli or another filled pasta. This sauce is especially handy if you are making a lasagna or other multi-ingredient baked pasta as you don't need to spend a lot of time chopping garlic & onions, sauteeing, etc.

Thank you, Ry, for a great easy way to make homemade tomato sauce!

Ryan, October 2008