Tomato sauce is one of the fundamental creations of Italian-American cooking. Every Italian family has recipes that have passed down through the generations. My mom's side of the family is 100% Sicilian, my mom's generation being the first born in the US. Most of my interest in cooking and food derives from watching and helping my mom prepare both quick and intriguing food for dinner almost every day while growing up. If we didn't eat at home, we were eating at my Nonno's (grandpa's) restaurant, where I would watch and help my grandpa create all his traditional dishes.
In my mind there was three types of tomato sauce: my Nonno's; my Nonna's (grandma') ;and my mom's. Nonno's sauce is a spicier and more flavorful version, my favorite. Nonna's sauce is more true to the main ingredient: tomatoes- very simple, and perfect for a variety of uses from delicate homemade ravioli to spicy Italian sausage to a plain plate of spaghetti. My mom's sauce is a perfect combination of both: a little chunkier, with a little kick, but toned down from my grandpa's version.
Since moving away from home I have cooked a lot of sauce, but never a real simple classic tomato sauce. Usually my basic sauce was a can of diced tomatoes cooked quickly with onion, olive oil and seasoning: ready in 15 minutes and very simple and spicy- great for a quick dinner. Well, that quick chunky tomato sauce deserves its own post for the usefulness and diversity that you can add 15 minutes before you want to eat dinner. But, I never actually simmered a big pot of smooth tomato sauce, and this past weekend, that changed.
I eventually want to mimic my family tradition, but for this first go round I was going to do it from memory, from my intuition, and a little help from Mario Batali. Consulting his cookbook so I didn't forget anything major, I, as usual, adjusted for my style and ingredients I had at home.
Erin and I started our tomato sauce with a healthy bit of extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan, once that got hot we added about a cup of diced onion and salted them, then three healthy tablespoons of minced garlic (out of a jar). We cooked the onions and garlic on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Then we added some shredded carrots and a couple tablespoons of capers. I added more salt and some crushed red pepper to infuse the oil. We let the carrots get soft and then added 3 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes. The main ingredients we were missing was basil and a bay leaf. Erin's fresh basil had died in the cold weather and we were out of the dried stuff. I seasoned with a bit more crushed red pepper, salt, fresh ground black pepper, parsley, a dash of sugar, a little oregano (not too much). We brought it to a boil, stirring frequently, and then reduced to a simmer for about 40 minutes.
The result: we were left with a huge pot of delicious, smooth, mild tomato sauce. we quickly boiled some pasta and had a beautifully simple lunch. We stored the rest in the fridge and the freezer, ready for us to use in one of our future cooking endeavors. Pizza, soups, breads, sandwiches, sausage, meatballs, pasta, the possibilities are endless for simple tomato sauce.