Cooking tomato sauce is an underrated activity. Well, at least for those of us who grew up with Newman’s Own or Prego or some other sludge from a jar. But before summer officially ends, take a Saturday afternoon to make the real stuff.
We should add a caveat here: Neither of us are versed in the Italian tradition. So is this authentic? Who knows—it’s a sauce made out of tomatoes. What else do you need?
Fresh tomatoes is what you need. While canned tomatoes work in the winter (and honestly, they work great, provided they’re San Marzano), there’s nothing better than a selection of diverse, colorful, and actually flavorful tomatoes right from the farm.
Mix and match for the greatest impact: heirlooms and Romas, plus some of those dark ones for funk. Roasting the tomatoes in some olive oil first helps bring out a beautiful array of flavors, and imbue them with that nice roasted flavor when they’re boiled down later.
Don’t miss the step at the end where you pour in some olive oil while the sauce is simmering—that’s a trick we learned from Samin Nosrat’s bible Salt Fat Acid Heat. It emulsifies and gives the sauce a beautifully rich texture, no cream needed. Save your best, high quality olive oil for this step, because you’ll really be tasting it. We love Frankies 457 for the nice stuff, and California Olive Ranch for everything else.
It’s not a quick process—at least a few hours’ commitment, not including time at the farmer’s market. But in the summer, any time cooking fresh is time well spent.
- Extra virgin olive oil, including 3/4 cup high-quality oil
- 2 medium yellow onions or four shallots, diced
- Salt and pepper
- 8 cloves garlic, 4 diced and 4 rough chopped
- 16 basil leaves
- 4 anchovies
- 2-4 bay leaves
- 4 lbs fresh tomatoes, when in season. During the off-season, you can substitute 4 lbs San Marzano canned tomatoes
Preheat oven to 325. Take fresh tomatoes and cut in half. Liberally salt and pepper, then place in a large skillet or Dutch Oven—if you’re using cast iron, make sure it’s enamel. Add chopped garlic cloves and surround with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 1 hour, until the tomatoes are charred around the edges.
Heat olive oil in big stock pot. Add onions and soften them, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and 4 anchovy filets plus some canning liquid. Use a wooden spoon to mash the filets, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn, cooking about 30 seconds.
Add roasted tomatoes into the pot, along with olive oil and garlic from the skillet. Sprinkle with some salt, then sash tomatoes around with spoon (or potato masher). Bring to a boil and stir in a tablespoon of sugar, some bay leaves, and half of the basil leaves, torn.
Simmer for about 1 hour on low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon and making sure the bottom doesn’t burn. Taste constantly! When tomatoes are cooked, bring to a fast, rolling simmer, just a step below a boil. Slowly pour in 3/4 cup of your best olive oil, stirring constantly. Let simmer for 10 minutes.
Take out bay leaves and blend the sauce with hand mixer, until it lightens slightly in color. Taste and adjust seasonings. When ready to serve, add rest of basil, torn or julienned.