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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.

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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.

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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…

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22 comments

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This is almost exactly our family pasta sauce, except we use a teaspoon of molasses instead of sugar. So yummy.

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@Sylvia: ooh I’ve never thought of using molasses. Thanks for the top, LLGxx

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Thank you as usual (I usually copy your recipe straight to Evernote)!
It is interesting to know about sugar to Tomato sauce, since Japanese including myself often put small amount of soy sauce usually. I have to try this next time.

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@picolin: And another good idea. I like the idea of the depth/umami that using soy cld bring. Will try this. Thank you! LLGxx

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I’m going to try that. Your recipes are amazing 🙂

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@Ella: Why thank you Ella! LLGxx

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As the daughter of an Italian American mother, this is exactly how I make my sauce! I even use the same type of pan! (Why do people make sauce in big old pots? Takes forever and the flavour is completely lost.) Slight differences — I always add loads of minced garlic to the onion, no sugar (to me tomatoes are sweet enough), and in summer its fresh tomatoes and lots of fresh basil from the garden. Also, if I use fresh tomatoes I don’t tend to cook it as long as the fresh flavour tends to cook out. If I want to switch it up, and I have some roasted red peppers those get chopped up and thrown in. Best sauce ever and yup even the littles gobble it up! Drat, I wish it wasn’t Easter… now I’m hankering for fresh sauce!
XXX
Suzanne

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@Suzanne aka Punk Glam Queen: It’s almost impossible to get good enough fresh tomatoes in the UK so I very very rarely make fresh tomato sauce. In this case, the sugar isn’t for sweetness, but to counteract the metallic of tinned ones – I don’t think I’d use sugar in a fresh sauce! (This recipe is definitely only for tinned tomatoes.)

LLGxx

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This is BRILLIANT!!

I love to cook as much as I can, and I love searching for new recipes. This looks great, and I lovethe tip about adding sugar to get rid of that horrid metallic taste. ( I really hate that metallic taste when I eat Chef Boyardee!)

I am def. going to use this recipe 😀
Thanks so much for posting hon!

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@Stephanie: So true: prepared food with tomatoes often has that metallic tang – along with the hideous taste of dried herbs. Yuck! Let me know how yr version goes. LLGxx

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Yum! I regularly make great vats of almost the same sauce! Usually I add several cloves of garlic instead of onion, and perhaps a bay leaf or a teaspoon of crushed dried chilli or something when I’m cooking it (and if feeding the boyfriend, I cook some with pancetta or chorizo to make a delicious arrabiata sauce that needs nothing more than good fussili and a good sprinkling of parmesan). Delicious!

Briony xx

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@A Girl, A Style: It’s such a perfect everyday recipe, isn’t it?! LLGxx

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Good tip re the sugar,you can also reduce some sugar with a little vinegar and add to the tinned toms,its called a gastrique amazing the difference it makes.Like you say a great base sauce can make lots of delicious dishes:)

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@Northern Snippet: I hadn’t thought of using a gastrique…it would beintesting to see how the extra acid balanced out…Thank you! LLGxx

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So similar to the one I make and so happy to see someone else has the onion love:) I like mine with lots of garlic most of the time. I don’t really like adding sugar, I prefer a finely grated carrot – I suspect this is one of those things you pick up from a young age and kinda stick to it. I have fond memories of making this with my grandma using fresh tomatoes in summer. We always had a glut of tomatoes and we’d spend hours turning them into sauce. Then, during the gloomy winter, you can pick a jar from the freezer and enjoy a burst of sunshine. Happy Easter LLG and thanks for reminding me of a very good memory.

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@Isabelle: hmm and another interesting idea…I guess it makes sense as the carrot will practically dissolve…I shall try!

Good food is all about the memories. LLGxx

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delicious!! i love the pasta shape!

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I love that you feature fashion and food. I really like a personal recipe that’s tried and tested and loved from the heart. And you actually explain all your ingredients and why they’re good! The sugar thing vs canned taste never crossed my mind.

I never normally follow recipe books, I have them and they sit pristine on the shelf because I never open them. I like to make things up when I cook. Well, I am going to hold onto yours and give it a go the next time I have time to cook Italian properly.

Thanks for sharing Sasha ; )
Yasmin x

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