Okay – it’s not Friday, but could we please pretend? I was not well on Friday so this is Recipe Friday in spirit if not in reality. This sauce is one of my bedrock recipes. It’s delicious on its own but it also forms the base of so much that I like to cook – and eat. Once a month or so I cook up a huge vat of the stuff, freezing it into one person portions so there is always something to eat in the house, without resorting to takeaway menus or M&S. (Don’t be tempted to freeze large containers full even if you are a big family – takes forever to defrost – much better to freeze in small portions.)
Best of all it’s so, so, so simple. And really good for you too. I was taught to make it by my mother, & I’ve been cooking it since I was in my early teens. I’ve never used a recipe and the ingredients are things I think most of us would be able to find in the most basic of store cupboards.
The most important thing about this sauce is to cook it for at least an hour, and to add a little sugar to counteract the metallic taste of the canned tomatoes. I just do not understand the countless recipes out there that call for tinned tomatoes and then require only 20 minutes cooking time. All that can possibly give is a raw, harsh flavour. Groo.
I like quite a lot of onion in my sauce for both depth of flavour, and for texture – it makes the sauce thicker. I also like a mixture of chopped and whole canned tomatoes, and I don’t use San Marzano or any other hand-plucked-by-organic-virgins-in-Italy canned ones either. Whatever is cheap on the shelf at the supermarket does me fine.
So I use one medium chopped onion per two cans of tomatoes, reducing sightly for large quantities. I think that big sauteuse in the top photo took six cans of tomatoes, and I used two onions. Sometimes I use garlic, sometimes I don’t. As you like.
Put on a nice big pan (I prefer wider to higher as it cooks down more quickly) with a generous slosh of basic olive oil. When it’s hot, tip in the chopped onions, turn the heat right down, and sweat (slow cook in oil) the onions until translucent, pushing them around from time to time. This takes at least twenty minutes. Cook them too hit and first and they’ll brown & caramelise. What you want are soft, colourless onions. (You want them nice & soft because once they hit the tomatoes they won’t get any softer.)
Then pour in the tomatoes, add a big slug of Passata (if you have it, not necessary) and a large squeeze of tomato paste, plus a teaspoon of sugar. (You can always add more.) Get it to simmering point (slow bubbling), then turn the heat to a low-medium and leave to simmer away. Do keep stirring regularly as it has a nasty habit of catching, and turn down the heat if you think it is boiling too fast. I also use a splatter guard as it bubbles away like a tub of volcanic gloop and you will end up with tomato sauce splodges everywhere otherwise.
After about twenty minutes, break up any whole tomatoes with the back of a spoon, and continue to cook. After about 45 minutes, I add salt & freshly ground pepper to taste. Then I check the seasoning and sometimes add a wee bit more sugar. I reckon it takes an hour to properly reduce and become sweet, thick & unctuous.
I served it with pasta & Parmesan to Matilda, aged 2, and she ate it ALL. Only pausing to say at regular intervals: MORE CHEESE.
You could also add a slosh of red wine to the onions once they are cooked, reducing it by half before adding the tomatoes. I sometimes cook mushrooms with the onions, or add whole dried chillies to the softening onion mixture. Once I had run out of sugar, so I added a splodge of ketchup, another time I used Sriracha chili sauce instead which worked brilliantly. (I pretty much add chili to everything anyway.)
Other than eating it plain with pasta, I’ve liquidised it to make tomato soup, shoved it through a sieve for a more refined sauce, added cream for a pretty pink pasta sauce, used it as the base for lasagne, made a Moroccan-inspired sauce by changing up the spicing, used it as a base for curries, made enchiladas with it, used it in Nachos, poured it over baked potatoes…it’s the sauce that just keep on giving…