A good sauce is something every Italian grandmother or "nonna" can pride herself on. I happen to have an amazing pasta sauce that I pride myself on, and have cheekily taken the title of "Nonna" on myself to show my pride in this sauce.
A few years ago, I decided to start planting tomatoes and quickly learned that towards the end of the usual season (August/September here in North Carolina) that, if properly maintained, one can end up with a quantity of tomatoes that rivals major producers from just a few plants. After eating my fill of tomato sandwiches, fried green tomatoes (in a vain attempt to stem the flow of ripening tomatoes) and salads, I remembered an old recipe my grandmother taught me. Well, at least I thought I did. What I ended up with was just amazing.
1 hour, 10 minutes
- De-seed and crush tomatoes (optionally: blanche & remove skins)
- Skin and crush Garlic
- Heat frying pan on Medium-Low heat
- Add Olive Oil to pan, allow to heat up
- Add Crushed Red Pepper and Garlic to pan and simmer until oil takes on a reddish color from the pepper flakes.
- At this point, it should be noted that the pan should be heated only enough to cause the garlic to bubble softly in the pan. If your garlic pops, hisses or jumps around on the pan, it's too hot! At this stage, we're trying to extract the flavor of the garlic and red pepper into the oil, not cook them.
- Add Crushed Tomatoes to pan and increase heat Medium.
- Press and stir the tomatoes in the pan for 10-15 minutes, cooking off only a little of the liquid they release.
- The intent of this step is to further break down the tomatoes, but also force them to absorb the garlic and pepper flake flavors.
- Add White Wine and Spices to the pan. Cook on Medium heat for another 15-30 minutes, constantly stirring and continuing to crush the tomatoes into a uniform consistency.
- Prepare Pasta to package specifications.
- Drain pasta thoroughly and allow to stand 5 minutes in drainer to dry.
- Add pasta to sauce pan.
Tomatoes, surprisingly, contain a lot of fiber. That's probably why your nonna spent hours fussing over a pot on a low flame. "Time" wasn't her secret ingredient; a healthy respect for what fiber does to your system, was more likely the cause. Prior to adding the pasta to the pan, this quick recipe can be transferred to a small crock pot or slow cooker to acheive the same effect. If you choose to do so, 4-6 hours on low should be enough time to reach the desired effect. Just make sure you add a little extra water as needed (2-3 Tablespoons two or three times during cooking should be sufficient).
Regardless of whether you use the fast or slow version of this recipe, it's all about tastes. I personally prefer to use home-grown or locally vine-ripened tomatoes for this recipe. There's something that the hot-house tomatoes that are picked green, shipped halfway across the world and presented for sale at your local mega-chain are missing that makes this recipe fail: sugar (fructose, specifically, not cane). Tomatoes ripened on the vine produce an amount of fructose that is specific to each type, but makes them sweeter than an artificially ripened produce-section tomato. I didn't like this recipe the few times I made it with artificially ripened tomatoes. I have made this recipe successfully with canned tomatoes. Specifically, Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes. It seems to me that other companies may be artificially ripening tomatoes and canning them with their lower fructose content to extend shelf life (lower sugar content = less food for bacteria = less chance of spoilage = longer shelf life), but that may be just conjecture.
I have successfully made this sauce using another prepared tomato - I would say canned, but they're in a box: Pomì Strained Tomato or Pomì Tomato Sauce. By the way, both products list "tomato" as the only ingredient. I'm sure there's a difference in prep, but the sauce tastes just as good either way.
And...I have successfully made this sauce using supermarket shelf tomatoes...although..."success" is barely the word I'd use, more like "trial and tribulation". After much fussing, the addition of a few tablespoons turbinated sugar (still a bit brown from the molasses left in it) brought the desired sweetness level up; but it was almost a tablespoon per tomato. Again, use your discretion, I like a much sweeter sauce than many. But, this only goes to show the amount of sugar "lost" by ripening tomatoes on the shelf versus ripening them on the vine.
Also, on the subject of "taste", I suggest adjusting your levels of dried spices to meet your personal taste. Those amounts given are rough estimates of how much I put in when I'm making my sauce, and I adjust levels later in cooking if the sauce doesn't smell "right". On to the wine! I was told very early in life that if you wouldn't drink the wine on it's own, don't put it in your food. I'm going to go a bit further and say that some recipes call for specific types of wine, and don't mess around with a good thing if you find it. For this recipe, almost always, I use a white wine from Spain called "Burgáns Albariño". If my local wine shope is out of that, I use a rioja, also from Spain, called "Dinastía Vivanco". I don't drink red wines, I've never developed a pallete for them. Use your discretion.
Something else I've learned about pasta-sauce-making from playing with this sauce: tomato sauce is incredibly acidic. If you have a hard time with acidic foods, try adding a level teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 3-4 teaspoons of water to the sauce. Mixing the baking soda into water first and cooking off the water prevents the sauce from bubbling and spattering when the baking soda is added. If you add the baking soda, please make sure to lower the amount of basil you use in the recipe. Basil's sweet flavor is magnified intensely with the addition of the baking soda.