Fresh Red Sauce

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey10:39 AM

I know I’ve told you about my rustic marinara with carrots, onion, celery, rosemary, thyme, oregano and Cabernet Sauvignon; a recipe I learned/adapted while working at Cafe Nonna in Nashville.  I use this for lasagna and other hearty dishes.

But I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about my simple red sauce.  It’s nothing I learned at a job or from some aged family member.  I’m slightly ashamed to admit I learned it from Anthony Bourdain’s “Skills” episode of No Reservations.  (Most other things on that episode were stupid basics I already knew, but the sauce stood out so much to me that I made it the next day.)

I’ve made this recipe using both fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes, and as long as you use San Marzano canned tomatoes, there’s almost no discernible difference.  I’ll probably still make it fresh every now and then just because I enjoy the process.  The recipe calls for Roma tomatoes, but I’ll bet you can use any tomato variety, so long as it’s been vine ripened and has a good sweet flavor.

To make it with fresh tomatoes

  • Blanche a few pounds of Roma tomatoes until the skins break, and then transfer them to a bowl of ice water.  This should only take a few minutes, and it’s more efficient to only do a few tomatoes at a time – that way you don’t drop the temperature of the boiling water too much, and you can keep a closer eye on the tomatoes.
  • Once the tomatoes have cooled, peel the skin off.  (this is actually very easy, since the skins have separated during the blanching process)  Over a bowl, run your fingers through the tomato cavities and take out as many seeds as possible.  Don’t worry about getting them all, I think that’s impossible.  You can reserve the liquid and seed mix to strain and add later if you think the sauce needs it.
  • Toss the tomato flesh into a heavy-bottomed pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil, some salt and a few shakes of red pepper flakes.  Cook this all on low for about 45 minutes, mashing it with a potato masher every few minutes.  The goal is to get a semi-smooth consistency without having to use a blender.

Or, you can use two 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes.  Toss them in a pot with the oil, salt and pepper – skip the potato masher – and cooking for about 30 minutes.

Here’s the secret to this recipe, and where the fresh and canned tomato recipes converge.  In a separate small pan (I use one of those tiny single-egg pans) toss between five and ten cloves of garlic cut in half.  Obviously, the more garlic you use, the more you’ll taste it, so plan accordingly.

Next, throw in a handful of fresh basil leaves on top of that; again, using as much as you think you would like, but at least a good handful.  Sprinkle on a few more red pepper flakes, and douse it all with enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the garlic.  (I use the one-egg pan because I can easily cover the garlic with less than a cup of oil.)  Warm this mixture on low heat until the basil has wilted into the oil, and keep it on low while the tomatoes simmer. The point here is to infuse the oil with the garlic and basil flavors.

When your tomatoes are at the right consistency, pour in the oil – through a strainer, leaving the garlic and basil behind – and whip vigorously to incorporate the oil into the tomato mix.  (In the picture below, I’ve separated the oil into another container, because I was dehydrating the tomato mixture for a hiking trip.  You can’t dehydrate fat, so I packed the oil separately an incorporated it at camp.)  

Anyway, now take a deep whiff!!  Hot damn!

This is great served just with noodles. Throw 4 ounces of al dente noodles and a splash of noodle water and about 6 ounces of sauce into a shallow pan.  Let it simmer until the noodles are done, and then drop in about a tbs of butter (yum) and some chopped fresh basil.  Toss it all in the pan for a bit – try to look like a celebrity chef.  Plate it up and eat.

It’s a super simple sauce, and you can’t beat the freshness of it all.  The sweet acidic tomatoes and the rich garlic and fresh basil.  Man, it’s great.

OR!!!! This stuff makes fantastic pizza sauce!  The flavors are so fresh and bright, that they just sing on a plain cheese pie.

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