Tomato Sauce – Back To Basics

If you’ve spent any time cooking you’ll probably have made a tomato sauce at some point – it’s one of the most basic sauces you can make. There are however a couple of considerations that make the difference between an average sauce and something really special.

Leave the onions out of it

You may well disagree with me on this one. To be fair, there’s many an established Italian cook who would rely on onions as the cornerstone of a good tomato sauce but it’s just not for me. I want my tomato sauce to be all about the tomatoes with a lightness and freshness that onions can detract from. That acidity you’re trying to balance with the sweetness of slow-cooked onions can be balanced just as well with a little sugar and, more importantly, good quality tomatoes.

The Tomatoes

For this sauce I use tinned tomatoes – they add a wonderful silkiness to the sauce. Get the best you can – you’re looking for flavour – sweetness and acidity balanced well. I use San Marzano canned tomatoes – they have a natural sweetness that means I only need a pinch of sugar to round the sauce off and not use onions. I buy mine in bulk to save money and time from these guys. Any good quality plum tomato will do the job though if you’re unable to source this particular variety.

Garlic + Chilli

I don’t like to overpower my sauce with garlic and might even leave it out but, if I do fancy a garlicy hit, I’ll add a small amount into the tomato as it cooks. I’d avoid frying the garlic first as you’re only going to add a bitterness to the sauce which is never a good thing.
If you fancy a back-note of heat to your sauce then a twist of chilli flake is the way to go.

Olive Oil

Get a good quality extra-virgin olive oil to finish the sauce off. Something with a decent peppery twang. I don’t like to add too much ground pepper to my sauce – the olive oil should do the work here.

The recipe

This should make sauce to coat enough pasta for 4 people.

  • 2 cans good quality plum tomatoes
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic (optional) finely chopped
  • Chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • Fresh basil – sliced into a thin chiffonade
  • Good quality extra-virgin olive oil.

Add the tomatoes to a heavy bottomed pan – I use the Saucier Pan from Falk Culinair – it cooks completely evenly and the rounded sides means there are no corners for the sauce to get stuck in. Put the pan over a low heat and bring to a very low simmer – barely bubbling away.
If you’re adding garlic or chilli, add it now.
Add the sugar.
Don’t break the tomatoes up yet – they’ll gradually break up during the cooking process.
Leave to simmer for at least 1 hour. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Remove from the heat and add the basil and a twist of salt. Then add a generous splash of olive oil.
Check the seasoning and you’re done.
Ready to coat your pasta/pizza or it can be stored in a jar for an easy meal in the middle of the week.