Tomato Sauce and Italian food to me are like Peas and Carrots. They go hand-in-hand. I can’t think of one without the other. Clearly there are plenty of Italian dishes that are not tomato based but I would argue that the Tomato Basil sauce, from Pizza to Pasta, is probably THE signature sauce for Italian cooking.
In the US, the land of convenience, there are plenty of pre-made sauces available in stores from brands like Ragu. Oversalted, loaded with chemicals and low on flavor, these are terrible. I realized many years back that making a decent Tomato Basil sauce is not difficult and I haven’t gone back to store bought sauces since. However a recent trip to Tuscany (and a cooking lesson at Organic Tuscany) brought back the realization that a) I was still overprocessing the sauce, and b) Pureeing the sauce with a hand blender is not a good idea.
Italian cooking (and Punjabi cooking to some degree) follows the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle. The cuisine is largely unfussy but relies on quality ingredients to bring out the flavors. With that philosophy, we were taught this excellent sauce by Manuela at Organic Tuscany. Manuela being the purist she is, did not think this sauce works well on Pizza, but her husband and I think it is a great all purpose Tomato Sauce for Italian cooking, including Pizza.
INGREDIENTS (Enough Pasta Sauce for 8 people, much more for Pizza)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Lbs Tomatoes (use an assortment – Cherry, Roma, Heirloom) – roughly chopped
1 Medium Red Onion – peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 sticks celery – washed, peeled on the rib, and roughly chopped
1-2 Carrots – peeled and roughly chopped
5-6 cloves garlic – whole (whole cloves impart a subtle flavor)
20-25 Basil leaves
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Take a large saucepan and pour enough Olive Oil so it covers the bottom.
2. Heat oil on medium heat.
3. Add the vegetables and garlic, and let them cook, stirring often, till done. It takes about 30 minutes – you’ll know when it is done because the carrots would be soft.
4. Using a food mill, puree the sauce. NOTE: A food mill separates the seeds and skin from the sauce. A hand blender purees everything and results in a more bitter sauce.
5. Heat the sauce again and increase thickness (by evaporating the liquid) or decrease it by adding water.
6. Tear up the Basil leaves into the sauce.
7. Add salt and pepper to taste and you are done.
NOTE: You can make this sauce in large quantities and freeze it for use later.