Tomato sauce is the foundation of a huge selection of Italian dishes, so there are as many variations as there are folks who cook Italian food. Once you discount the gimmicky super simple recipes, the rest sort of separate into two separate philosophies. The first is the gourmet approach, which puts emphasis on subtle relationships between fresh ingredients and is careful not to overcook the tomatoes. I think these sauces do best when they are the center of the dish. The other philosophy is the homemade slowcooked sauce, and that’s what this recipe is. The intent here is to concentrate the flavor of your ingredients, yielding a thicker sauce that’s great to support other dishes. This is the kind of sauce I go for if I’m making pizza, lasagne, baked eggplant, etc…
This recipe takes a little while to cook (2-3 hours usually), but it’s really low involvement. You spend a few minutes at the start getting it going, and then just come back every once in a while to stir. If that still sounds like a long time to spend, you can get more for your troubles by making a lot. The quantities scale up really easily, so you can make a big batch and keep it in the fridge (for a couple of weeks) or freezer (for a couple of months).
So I liked the coding system that I used for the ingredients in my last post. Just to recap how it works: Bold ingredients are essential and define the recipe, italic is for historically proven good ideas that are often used, and everything else is pretty specific to this particular iteration of the recipe. As you can see from the list below, I’m not shattering the world of Italian cooking with this one, everything is pretty classic.
~2.5 lbs. canned tomatoes (I used a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, and a 14oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes this time, but the prep and texture are completely flexible)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
~2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano (I really like thyme here actually, but the oregano was fresher)
2 tsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp salt (maybe a little more? only a taste will tell)
black pepper to taste
half decent olive oil (don’t break the bank, but remember that it is a key flavor component to the sauce)
First, get a nice big saucepan going on medium-low heat. You want a temperature that gets your onions entirely transparent before they begin to color.
Add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan (like 3 or 4 tablespoons?), followed by the onion and bell pepper. Give everyone a good stir and let them slowly begin to sweat. You won’t need to pay much attention to this process, just a little stir now and then to prevent whatever surface is touching the pan from cooking faster than the rest of it.
Once your onion and pepper are all the way see through and a little bit golden, you can add the garlic. Give it a nice stir and resume the slow golden-ing process. : )
When all the aromatics have a nice gentle golden color (not browned), you can add the tomatoes. Stir them for a while at first to ensure they combine well with the ingredients in the pan, and then turn the heat down to low so that they can simmer.
Stir the sauce around only as often as is necessary to prevent the bottom from burning, and when the temperature in the pan has caught up to your adjustment of the burner, add the sugar and salt.
Continue to slowly allow moisture to escape, stirring when needed. Eventually the sauce will reduce to a point that the water/oil balance changes where the sauce contacts the pan. The bubbling that occurs for most of the cooking process will slow considerably, and hissing will also be audible. When you’ve reached this point, taste test and adjust the salt and pepper. If you feel you can continue to drive water out without changing the color of the tomatoes, then you should probably try and do that, you don’t want the tomatoes to actually brown though. If you’re going to push, taste often to make sure things aren’t getting out of hand. If it does go a little funky you can usually rescue it with a bit more sugar as long as you catch it soon enough. Don’t feel obligated to take a risk though with your 3 hours of work, if most of the excess liquid is gone, then you’re good to go as is, anything more is a bonus. Stir in the fresh oregano, give it a few seconds to come to temperature, and then remove the pan from the heat.
Pizza is probably the easiest way to eat this sauce, just spoon some on a crust, top with veggies, and pop it in the oven! I’ll be posting some more exciting applications for it in the future though. Enjoy!