This is my bastard tomato sauce recipe. I say bastard tomato sauce because this recipe does not come from any one particular place. Rather, this is an accumulation of saucing techniques that I cribbed from various places, which I then modified over the years via a long and tedious phase of experimentation, in the finest home cooking tradition.
First, finely chop about half a large onion, as well as several cloves of garlic. Most tomato sauce recipes seem to recommend using about 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, which is about 4 to 5 fewer cloves than I use. You want a whole bunch of garlic in this. Garlic is the best, and it makes your tomato sauce taste the best, and it keeps the vampires away, and no recipe that calls for garlic has ever called for a sufficient amount of it. Not once. Use all the garlic. Chop it finely and set it aside.
Next, haul out your medium saucepan and start sweating the onions on medium heat. Do not add any oil or seasoning at this time, we are getting these onions going dry. Starting your onions dry helps them to cook more nicely, for reasons that I do not understand and cannot be bothered to research for this post that I am throwing together at the last minute. Just know that if you add oil, salt, and pepper from the get go, the onions will still cook and all but they won’t cook as nicely as they possibly could, because science.
Similarly, do not start by cooking the garlic. Onion, even when finely chopped, takes about two years to cook fully. We’re not fully caramelizing the onions for this purpose, but we’re at least going to get them to the point were they’re starting to brown and lose their structural integrity. Finely chopped garlic comes in much smaller pieces than finely chopped onion, and cooks much faster in the first place. If you start with the garlic, by the time the onion is where you want it, the garlic will be singed to a nice crisp. This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s sub-optimal so let’s not do that.
Anyway, stir the onions a little bit from time to time. Once they’re sweating and starting to turn translucent, then add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, as well as a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper. Stir that around, then add the garlic, as well as some dried oregano and crushed red pepper. Just how much red pepper you want in here is up to you. If you want the sauce to be spicy and closer to an arribiata sauce, add a whole bunch of them. If you don’t want the sauce to be particularly spicy, add relatively few flakes. You could eschew them entirely if you wish, however, I would encourage you to add some. Even if you don’t want the sauce to be at all spicy, the barest hint of heat will help it out in subtle ways.
Once this aromatic bouquet is smelling up your kitchen real nice, add an entire 6 ounce can of tomato paste. Get the tomato paste coating all of your aromatics – once this is accomplished, you will have a misshapen wad of tomato paste, onions, and garlic. The visible oil will start to turn red, and bits of paste will start to brown on the bottom of the pot. This looks totally gross and weird, and it’s exactly what you want to happen! Trust me! It’ll deepen the umami flavors in the finished product. That said, this stage goes relatively quickly. Keep this going until you see the oil has turned a medium reddish color.
Open up a bottle of red wine. You choice of wine goes here. One of the wisest pieces of advice I ever received was that you should only cook with wines you would actually drink, so pick a wine you know you actually like. Drop a couple glugs in the saucepan, then use this liquid to scrape off any tomato paste or other bits that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan. Once this is done, open up a 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes and dump it in, including any and all liquid in the can. If you happen to be in the three day window that constitutes tomato season, go ahead and use fresh tomatoes. Otherwise, use canned ones. They’re better 362 days of the year than whatever mealy bullshit tomatoes you’re gonna get at the store.
Add a whole bunch more salt, pepper and oregano, as well as a giant whole carrot which is sliced in half. A lot of tomato sauce recipes call for adding sugar in order to reduce the acidity of the tomatoes. The problem with this that, as Americans, we eat enough fucking sugar anyway, and what’s more, this doesn’t actually work. Sugar only tricks your palette into thinking the sauce is less acidic – again, I’m not fully clear on how this works, but it’s a thing, trust me. Use a whole carrot instead! It actually does reduce the acidity of the tomatoes, and makes the sauce taste more savory, more tomato-y, and just plain better than some bullshit sugar sauce. You want this carrot to be relatively huge, as we will be pulling both halves of it out of the sauce once it’s close to done.
Give the sauce a stir and regulate the heat so that it comes to a slow simmer. This will probably involve turning the heat down some. Congratulations! You have completed the most labor intensive portion of the sauce making. However, you will need to keep an eye on it and make sure it’s simmering nicely, and give it a good stir from time to time. Also, keep in mind that we’re using whole tomatoes, and while the tomatoes will start to break down over time as the sauce simmers, you may wish to do some breaking up of the tomatoes on your own.
Eventually, after about 40 minutes to an hour, this whole mess will look like less of a whole mess and more like tomato sauce as you and I understand it. Once it gets to this point, taste and adjust the seasoning, then grab a sprig of fresh basil. Pull the leaves of the stems, then chop these leaves into fine ribbons. Remove the two carrot halves, then throw the basil in and splash a few additional glugs of olive oil over the top of everything and stir it in.
We’re basically done at this point, but what would tomato sauce be without some spaghetti to go with it? Boil a pound of spaghetti, and make sure to reserve about a cup of the spaghetti water out of the pot in the last minute the pasta is cooking. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it into a colander, then return it to the original pot with some olive oil and/or butter. Ladle approximately half of the sauce on top of the pasta, as well as about half the pasta water, and stir all that shit together, adding more pasta water if needed to get the sauce distributed.
Hooray! You have accomplished spaghetti and tomato sauce. Scoop yourself up a plate, then slap a shitload of Parmesan cheese on top and go to town. The remaining sauce will keep in the fridge for a while, but I recommend freezing it if you’re not going to use it in the next week or so.
Tasty, right? You’re never gonna by that jarred shit again, are you? I thought not. You’re welcome.
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