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Monday, June 26, 2000
My Simple Italian Sauce Recipe
Excuse the quality of photos, I have a really shitty digital camera with no flash. Looking at these pictures, I can't help but think of that line from "Fletch" where he's showing Gayle Stanwyk the pictures of the phony deed to the ranch land, and he says, "If this were at all legible, you'd see..."
One of the things I appreciate most about Italian cuisine is the simplicity. Find a great ingredient or two, and let it speak for itself. In this case, my tomato sauce is all about Italian Plum Tomatoes. I don't go all bonkers with the spice rack for my sauce, because the flavor of Italian Plum Tomatoes is too good to hide.
2 - 28oz cans of Italian Plum Tomatoes (whole and peeled in sauce), milled/pressed
Note the garlic is just rough chopped. Dicing it into little tiny pieces reduces its flavor, and you're going to cook it long enough where eating a chunk isn't going to bring tears to your eyes. Don't massacre the garlic.
Heat about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of olive oil in a stockpot or dutch oven.
This is probably my favorite tool - my tomato press. With this, I can take all the seeds, skins, and rough internal chamber walls out of the cans of tomatoes, leaving me with just the sauce. Today's sauce is made with DeLallo brand tomatoes, which are packed with fresh basil leaves in each can. I preserve the leaves by putting them in my sauce bin before milling the tomatoes. Check out this next picture, it shows how much waste I'm left with from two cans in comparison to the sauce I pull.
The sauce output is pure tomato with no seeds or other bitter product. This helps the true flavor of the tomato not get corrupted. If you don't have a food mill or tomato press (and chances are you don't), I'd suggest either taking a wire mesh strainer and pushing the tomatoes through (which is a pain in the ass), or dumping them all in a bowl and crushing the whole tomatoes - either in your hands or with a fork.
Once the oil heats up (medium high heat), add the onion. Season with salt and pepper. Saute the onion in the oil for 3-4 minutes.
Add the garlic next. This is where I add some basil and a few red pepper flakes. You'll add more later, be patient.
You'll probably be lured back to the pot before the onion and garlic are ready by the aromas wafting through your kitchen, but you'll know you're ready to move to the next step when the onions are transparent and the garlic is still carrying the yellowish color. Don't let it brown, you don't want to burn it (another benefit of not chopping it into miniscule pieces). This will probably take 5 minutes or so from when you add the garlic.
At this point, dump the tomatoes in the pot and stir.
Add more salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and basil. I don't believe you can ever have too much basil, but don't go trying to prove me wrong either. Remember that the object isn't to season the sauce all at once, but to allow the tomatoes to be infused with the various flavors - so back down on the salt and pepper right now, knowing you'll be adding more later.
Bring the sauce up to a steady bubble. I like to leave it there, over medium high heat, for ten to fifteen minutes or so, then back it down to medium low. Remember, tomatoes are fruits and loaded with sugar, and sugar burns - so keep that heat in check. After that? Leave it alone and uncovered for a couple hours. Stir it every once in awhile, but let the excess liquid evaporate. While that's happening the flavors will condense and the sauce will thicken into something terrific.
Season to taste.
I'm probably in the minority on this one, but when I eat pasta and sauce, I don't pile pasta on the plate with a big, thick mound of sauce on top. I usually will drain the pasta and reserve about 1/4 cup of the water in which it was boiling. Then, I'll return the pasta to the cooking pot with a couple of ladles of sauce. I'll toss it up, and add a little bit (not the whole 1/4 cup - as much as is needed) of the water to the pot help the sauce spread out just a bit. This sauce works really well in that capacity - if you give it enough time to thicken. Instead of a heaping helping of sauce, I'm able to have all my noodles thoroughly covered with the sauce's flavor - using less of the sauce and leaving more for upcoming meals.
Bill Simmons @ ESPN
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