Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stand-by Tomato Sauce

“Authentic” Italian food always makes me chuckle. I am from an Italian family, and to us, Italian food is any food that is cooked by an Italian. To Italians, authentic food is whatever is growing in their garden or is available fresh from the nearby market. Large chain restaurants that advertise so-called authentic Italian family cooking make us (my authentic Italian family) laugh because, really, Italian food is no secret and definitely does not have any rules or regulations surrounding it. The best Italian food is made by my favorite Italian (who happens to be my mother), and my  favorite Italian dishes of hers are anything from her delicious lasagna to her  to numerous vegetable rice pilafs to her cheeseburgers and so on and so forth. One should never argue over the authenticity of an Italian recipe, because to an Italian, authentic is using whatever is quality, on hand and fresh, and the only distinctions between varying types of Italian cuisine are because of the various climates and growing conditions throughout the boot country.

That being said, every Italian and really every cook of any sort has their favorite stand-by classic tomato sauce recipe. This is mine - I offer you this, the best Italian tomato sauce ever ;), straight from the brain of an authentic Italian, sure to please all sorts of pasta shapes, meatball varieties and food enthusiasts alike.

This recipe will make enough for about one pound of pasta, give or take a little bit. If you'd like, make a larger quantity and freeze or preserve some.

To freeze this sauce, bring it to room temperature and place into containers or bags, then chill in the refrigerator. Once cool, stick it in the freezer. To use from frozen, simply thaw it overnight in the refrigerator. It doesn't have to thaw completely - just enough to pour out of the container and into a pot over the stove. Reheat over low heat with the lid on until it is hot.

Stand-by Tomato Sauce
  • 3 pounds tomatoes, OR one 28 ounce can and one 14 ounce can quality whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
  • 5-6 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion
  • 1 rib celery with leaves, halved and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
In a large saucepot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook until the onions are browned and translucent, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, if you are using fresh tomatoes, peel them. Remove the green top and score an “X” into the bottoms. Submerge in a pot of boiling water for about thirty seconds, until the skin begins to separate. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, slip the skins off (this is incredibly easy).

Place the tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, oregano, thyme, crushed red pepper and fennel seeds in a blender and process until they are a smooth consistency.

Add the tomato mixture to the saucepot and add the bay leaf and sugar. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat as low as possible and simmer, partially covered, for at least one hour – up to six hours. The longer the sauce simmers, the thicker and more concentrated the taste becomes. 

This recipe makes enough for about eight servings of pasta. I often use half of it now and freeze the rest. Chill the sauce after cooking, and place in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, scoop it into freezer bags or freezer-safe containers. To use the frozen sauce, simply thaw it for a day or two in the refrigerator and give it a quick simmer on the stove.

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