That is to say, the perfect tomato sauce. And no, it’s not Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato, onion, and butter sauce, though that’s pretty damn perfect too. Mine does borrow a bit of butter from hers, to sweeten and take the edge off the tomatoes, much like a pinch a sugar but in a less obvious way, and with a bit of animal funk.
This recipe dates back to 2010 when, taken by a fit of ambition, I decided tomato sauce would be the perfect Christmas gift for my clients and a few favourite workmates.
In the lead-up, Lucy, my right hand at the time, would bring me a few different brands of Italian canned tomatoes each day and we’d open then taste them side-by-side and decide on the best one. This went on for a couple of weeks until we’d narrowed it down to a handful. We regrouped to try the finalists and chose just one winner. Deciding on a recipe was met with equal rigour.
Suffice it to say, we dedicated ourselves to trying every new and old, vaunted and debated, simple and not sauce until we decided on something worth tweaking to our tastes. This is that sauce.
It begins with a little inspiration from Rustichella D’Abruzzo’s line of prepared tomato sauces, long my favourite jarred sauce, likely because they contained a good whack of olive oil, as much a part of their flavour as are very ripe tomatoes. It takes some ideas from the red sauce at Frankie’s Sputino too, lightly browning whole cloves of garlic, thus moderating what could be a more robust caramelized garlic flavour had you chopped it instead of left it whole (and consequently increased its surface area).
And yes, it does include a pat of butter and an aromatic, an ode to Marcella’s very clever sauce. Instead of an onion though you use a few leaves of basil much like you would bay leaves, into the pot then out, to befriend the tomatoes and encourage them to be themselves – it’s basil’s job really. Yours of course is to eat it everywhere a good tomato sauce should go.
The sauce easily adapts to other flavours. In the final 10 minutes of cooking, try stirring in 3-4 finely chopped oil-packed anchovies, or instead a tablespoon or two of capers and a dozen black olives. If a tomato basil sauce is more your thing, stir in 1/2 cup (125 mL) loosely packed chopped basil.
- ⅓ cup (80 mL) olive oil
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
- 28 oz can (796 mL) Italian tomatoes and their juices
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) butter
- 2-3 large basil leaves
- ½ tsp (2 mL) salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook garlic cloves for 10 to 12 minutes, turning occasionally, until soft and lightly golden on all sides.
- Add tomatoes, crushing between your fingers as you do, along with the juices from the can. Add butter; stir in salt and basil leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Remove basil leaves and discard.
- Using a potato masher, or fork, work sauce into a chunky purée. Cook for an additional 15-25 minutes or until thickened to your liking. Season with pepper.
- pasta of course
- parmigiana of any sort
- make your favourite meatball, brown, and add to sauce after you’ve mashed the garlic
- use as a dunk for all sorts of breaded and fried things, like deep-fried cauliflower
- try it on a robustly topped pizza (sausages!)