I view a homemade tomato sauce as a blank slate. If you want a simple sauce, add tomatoes, seasoning, some onions, and let it simmer. If you're looking for something more interesting, a tomato sauce can be a great base for experimentation--you can add unique herbs; you can add heat, or you can even make the sauce slightly sweet.
Whether you choose the simple or creative route, the most important thing for a successful sauce is the quality of the tomatoes. Heirloom, vine ripened, Roma, hot house--these tomatoes are currently at their peak of flavor and are readily available at the farmers' market.
Last week, without planning it, I came home with four ripe and colorful tomatoes. I had stopped at Cherry Lane's stand to chat with the owner and was immediately drawn to the grapefruit sized tomatoes sitting on the front table. At the last minute I also saw the farm's remaining heirloom tomatoes, a variety that looked more like a purple golf ball than a tomato.
I sought a tomato sauce recipe that would let these tomatoes shine. Thankfully, tomatoes happen to be one of Skye Gyngell's 'Favorite Ingredients'. In her cookbook she shares that tomatoes are "one of the great joys of a summer menu". She claimed that her tomato sauce recipe was nothing special, just useful.
After making and eating her recipe, I have to disagree. The tomato sauce packed a powerful and spicy punch. Each ingredient in the recipe simmers until the smells wafting from the pot are nearly too much to take. The garlic and onion are allowed to become almost translucent. Right at that nearly translucent moment, you add the tomatoes and let them simmer for 20-30 minutes.
In reading that last paragraph, the recipe sounds like a breeze. I must admit: I nearly ruined this tomato sauce. The recipe calls for a dried red chili. I didn't have one and so at the last minute I ran to our local grocery store. I came home with a dried habanero and crumbled that into the sauce. Whoa! The habanero turned the sauce from simple to deceptive--my first taste was rich and intense and my second taste was one akin to hot coals burning down my throat. After gulping down some water, I rushed around the kitchen, attempting to fix the sauce. I ended up diluting it with water and ladling out the excess water. Near the end, I added honey and reduced the excess liquid. I rescued the sauce, though in the future I plan on simply using dried red pepper flakes.
Tomato Sauce for Pasta
Recipe adapted from My Favorite Ingredients by Skye Gyngell
3 pounds very ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup EVOO
1 large red onion, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
sea salt & black pepper
3 bay leaves
4-5 thyme sprigs
1 dried red chile
- Roughly chop the tomatoes and remove the seeds (if you prefer). Warm the olive oil in a heavy pan or dutch oven and add the onion. Sweat gently for 10 minutes until soft. Add the garlic, a pinch of salt, the bay leaves and thyme. Crumble in the red chile (or a teaspoon of red pepper flakes) and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, stir, and turn up the heat. Cook rapidly for 20 minutes, stirring frequently so that the sauce doesn't burn. For the most flavorful sauce, it's important that the liquid evaporates. Before serving, season with salt and pepper and remove the bay leaves and thyme.