Cathy's Blog

Picky Cook: Red Sauce


The Neapolitans call tomato sauce gravy. The upscale term is marinara. I prefer red sauce, because it conveys my preference for the plain-and-simple when it comes to everyday cooking. Fifteen years ago I went to a Neapolitan restaurant in the far reaches of Queens, highly recommend for its authenticity, and got an impassioned lecture from the owner about why his red sauce was so spectacular. I remain a convert to this day. His recipe is so simple it’s ridiculous, a far cry from the empty-the-spice-rack version of my ignorant youth. The one essential ingredient is imported San Marzano plum tomatoes, grown in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius near Naples. Domestic San Marzano tomatoes will not do, because of the quality of soil the imported tomato is grown in. According to the restaurateur, it is so rich in volcanic particles, bits of glistening lava, that the tomato plants get a double dose of sunshine, directly from above as well as reflected from below.

I don’t know if that’s based on fact or just a good story. All I know is that these plum tomatoes taste like none other. They are so sweet and rich in flavor they need nothing but salt, pepper, and maybe some dried oregano. Simply open a 28-oz. can of imported San Marzano plum tomatoes (I have no preference as to brand),  pour the contents into a blender, and process to your liking. (I am not fond of chunks of tomato on my pasta, but that’s just me being picky.) Finally chop some onion and garlic, sautee it in a little good olive oil until soft, pour in the blended tomatoes, spice it minimally, and there you have it. Basta. To maintain the freshness of the flavors, don’t overcook the sauce. Serve over pasta with freshly grated Reggiano parmesan cheese.

To avoid a metallic or icky plastic aftertaste, refrigerate leftover sauce in a glass jar. Perhaps save one from the next time you buy an eight-dollar jar of inferior, overly spiced and sweetened, chemical-flavored commercial tomato sauce. A 28-oz. can of imported San Marzano costs less than four dollars, even in high-priced New York City, so this homemade sauce is a bargain as well.

September 27, 2015

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