Maybe you’re a gardener who finds yourself inundated with tomatoes at harvest time. Or perhaps you’re seeing some great deals at the farmers’ markets. Since I have this dilemma each year when the tomato harvest booms, I thought I would share my secrets of how to make absolutely delicious tomato sauce at home, easily and quickly.
6 pounds fresh tomatoes, Roma or San Marzano work the best, pureed
Fresh garlic to taste (we used a head of garlic with 12 large cloves, but this can be adjusted depending on preference), chopped
Fresh basil (10 or more leaves), chopped
1/3 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons organic brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream (optional)
Sprigs of fresh rosemary and oregano, chopped, or a teaspoon of the dried equivalent
Fresh chopped pepperoncino or dried pepper flakes (optional)
Salt to taste (my recommendation: Sicilian sea salt from the salt mines of Trapani, readily available in stores and online)
We do grow our own tomatoes and the best ones for sauce are actually the Roma variety, as well as the Italian favorite, the San Marzano. This is a deep red, plum-like tomato, purported to be one of the world’s best (and the only ones permitted to be used on the world-famous Neapolitan pizzas). But I often throw in other varieties, like the few heritage tomatoes in this photo, as I love their taste. I’ve even made this recipe successfully with cherry tomatoes.
These two ingredients are, in our opinion, crucial to the taste of any fresh tomato sauce. While we grow our own basil ourselves, which is very easy to do as the next photo will explain, we prefer to buy organic garlic bulbs at our local farmers’ market.
Here’s an interesting tip we learned from a local chef: If you hate peeling fresh garlic (as we do) place the bulb in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Let cool a bit, and the skin should peel off easily without destroying its flavor.
In most climates, basil is a summer crop and relatively easy to grow. We just spread some seeds in spring in our Southern California garden, they pop up in summer, and we enjoy this fragrant and healthy addition to our cuisine well into November. It’s also easy to buy a plant at your local home improvement store and keep it on a sunny window sill.
The Italian word “arrabbiata” means “angry,” so if you see “arrabbiata sugo” on a menu, be prepared for a spicy version of your typical pasta sauce. We love the kick this spice gives our homemade sauce, and these Calabrian hot peppers from our garden fit the bill. We use one or two small ones, as they pack a powerful punch. But this ingredient should only be used for those who like it hot!
To get started on this sauce, I use a food processor to finely chop the basil, garlic and peppers in preparation for sautéeing. Traditional chefs may want to chop it all by hand with a sharp knife, but I’m not sure I could do the same and be done in 30 minutes.
The next step goes quickly. The key here is to use the best extra virgin olive oil you can find, and there are many on the market to choose from. The spice mixture should be sautéed in olive oil on low heat around five minutes until it takes on a warm glow.
The next step is to puree your tomatoes in the food processor, as you did for the basil and garlic. I leave the skin on when using our organic tomatoes, as that is where lots of beneficial nutrients reside. But in true Italian tradition, the skin is removed by blanching.
That being said, I never felt the flavor of our sauce was impacted at all by leaving the skins on, and it is definitely an added health bonus.
Combine your prepped ingredients and pureed tomatoes in a large pot. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to cook down your sauce over medium heat. This is the point where I add a tablespoon or two of organic brown sugar and fresh oregano from the garden. I also often add some bouillon, rosemary and even fresh cream on occasion (which helps tone down the acidity of the sauce), as well as my staple, Sicilian sea salt.
One of the simplest, and most important, steps in cooking is to constantly taste and adjust accordingly. A recipe is just a map of the dish you’ll produce by tweaking each recipe on your own, as you taste your way through your creation.
Pair your sauce with a pasta and serve alongside a garden salad and Italian red wine, and you’ll have a meal fit for a king. As an added bonus, this sauce freezes beautifully for many months. There’s nothing better than to pull out this sauce from your freezer during the winter and taste the joy of fresh tomato in every bite!