Learning to make tomato sauce is challenging. This recipe is quite simple as promised, don’t get me wrong. But there are so many ways of making a tomato sauce, so many good ways, that it’s easy to get confused. The reality is it takes time and practice to get to a point when you feel you own the sauce you are making. The upshot is that you get to eat your way to learning and make everyone around you very happy in the meantime.
Hence, as someone who has been studying tomato sauce religiously from the Italians for the last 15 years and as someone who would like to see YOU progress in a lot less time, here is my tomato sauce HOMEWORK GUIDE:
- Make this particular sauce until you feel comfortable with it. Make it a few times in the next few weeks.
- Then start experimenting with other tomato basil recipes that you encounter either in this blog or through other chefs. Notice how a slight difference in ingredients and process changes the flavor.
- Begin now to try out all different kinds of tomato sauce recipes, not just a tomato and basil one, and notice how the inclusion of onion or celery or thyme or oregano changes the character of the sauce. You will find that even how you cut the ingredients will affect the flavor, as will the exact heating method contribute to nuanced differences. You might prefer one sauce depending on the mood you are in or the meal you are making.
- Soon you will begin to make your own array of sauces inspired by personally informed creative impulses. This is freedom in the kitchen!!
If you can’t be bothered by all that, just follow the instructions below and enjoy.
But, for those still interested in learning, I will dispel the secrets of this particular sauce. As you will see there are not many ingredients. This sauce is the opposite of Emril Lagasse’s expression ” BAM, BAM BAM!” There are no explosions of flavor here. This sauce is about harmony and about letting the garlic and whole basil leaves gently infuse their flavors into the tomatoes. The carrots are not to be eaten inside of the sauce, but are used rather to add sweetness to the tomatoes naturally, without sugar. They also lend a mildly earthy flavor. (The carrots cooked in the tomato sauce will however, make a leftover side dish!)
Lastly, a good tomato sauce cannot be made without good tomatoes. I like canned tomatoes for certain sauces because they are just as good in the winter as they are in the summer (unlike fresh tomatoes which are only good in summer) and lend themselves to a richer sauce with very little work.
The guidebook for choosing canned tomatoes:
- Always read the ingredients on a can of tomatoes. If there is oregano or garlic or other spices, those canned flavors are going into your sauce and it will not taste like Italy. It will taste like the cheap American spaghetti sauce your mother made.
- Whole peeled tomatoes will have better flavor than those that are already diced. The cutting process ruins them somehow. I pulse them in my Vitamix or Cuisinart very briefly, leaving the puree the slightest bit chunky, just before I throw it into the hot pan.
- Choose Italian plum tomatoes when possible. The best are San Marzano.
Here is a list of some of my favorite brands: (again, no one is sponsoring me, this is for your own good and the good of tomato sauce at large):
- Carmelina Italian Peeled Tomatoes
- San Marzano Whole Peeled Tomatoes
- Cento San Marzano Whole Peeled Tomatoes
- Whole Foods 365 Organic Whole Peeled Tomatoes
- Whole Foods 365 Whole Peeled Tomatoes
- Trader Joe’s canned tomatoes with basil, my friend Francesca, a real Italian, says they are great and uses them all the time. I think they are ok, but not fantastic.
- Organic Muir Glenn Whole Peeled Plum Tomatoes
- S&W Premium Organic Diced Tomatoes *Note: these are not my favorite brand, I put them down because they can be found at some Costco’s in bulk and can help us insure that we always have a can of tomatoes on hand. I do find them a bit watery and flavorless though, but certain clients of mine never noticed!
(to read Health Benefits of each ingredient, click on them)
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil, about a quarter cup
- 3 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed firmly with the side of a knife
- tiny dash of red pepper flakes
- 1 28 oz. can whole peeled San Marzano Tomatoes, or another choice from the list above
- 10-15 fresh basil leaves
- 1 carrot, cut in half and then each half cut in quarters vertically, totaling 8 matchstick pieces- no need to peel it if organic.... OR a handful of baby carrots
- kosher salt, about 1- 1 ½ tsp.
- Place a heavy skillet over a medium flame for a couple minutes.
- In the meantime, in a Vitamix on low settings or in a food processor, briefly pulse the tomatoes and their juices into a pulp, without over processing. You can also squeeze tomatoes by hand, but careful of the splatterings!
- Add olive oil to the hot skillet, followed by the garlic, red pepper flakes and carrots. Watch as the bubbles emanate from garlic; that is the garlic infusing its flavor into the oil. Don’t let the garlic burn or even brown, you want it to stay translucent.
- After several minutes, pour in the tomato pure. You will see olive oil coming up on the sides of the tomatoes;this is ok, the olive oil helps to transform the flavor of the tomato.
- Add a good sprinkling of salt, about 1 teaspoons, and a large handful of basil leaves. I throw them in with the stems.
- Stir occasionally. It will be done in 20-25 minutes, when it is no longer watery and the sauce has thickened.
- Test for salt and add more if necessary. If you aren’t sure if there is enough salt, there isn’t. Add more.
- Remove the carrots and use them as a side dish for another meal, if you like.
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