Tomato sauce 101

8 10 2010

A few ingredients for a really great sauce!

I LITERALLY lived on tomatoes from 2003 to 2004, 17 months to be exact.  But even before that, I’ve so loved tomatoes already.  As a kid, I vividly recall a phase when I would have only chopped tomatoes and a little salt to eat together with lots of steamed white rice.  Clearly, the love has always been there way before clever marketing splashed “lycopene” on labels.

I guess this is why I’ve come to consider myself a tomato authority.

And these I know for sure.  Plum tomatoes are the best for making sauces.  And among plum tomatoes, the Roma variety is the best.  And of all the Roma variety of plum tomatoes, the ones grown in the fertile volcanic soil of San Marzano in Naples, Italy are the best.  They are aptly called San Marzano, of which the brand La Valle is the best canned variety.  At least for me.

I talk tomatoes.  DOTA heroes, Magic cards, and NBA Fantasy, I may not know like Brother, Flash and Green Lantern do.  But tomatoes?  Tomatoes, I know!

So when one of my good friends at work, Brenda Aragon–Gallo, asked me for a really good basic tomato sauce recipe for pasta, I got so excited to share with her.  I myself am an unapologetic, shameless solicitor of recipes.  Whenever I come across a food I instantly love, I ask what it is called and how it is made.  And I ask without ceasing.  So it was a welcome change to be on the receiving end of the asking.

However, when one proclaims himself an expert on something, the pressure is quite high – almost palpable it’s like piercing a balloon with a pin – to deliver perfection.  So the moment I got home last night, I darted through the door, totally dismissed the presence of piping hot “Nilagang Tadyang ng Baboy” (pork spareribs in a gingery broth with lots of fresh vegetables) – but not after catching a whiff of it for about five seconds – and checked if we had anything I could turn into a basic tomato sauce.

And I did have – two 14.5-oz. (411g) cans of Hunt’s diced tomatoes, Bertolli extra virgin olive oil, McCormick ground cayenne pepper, and garlic.  I do have quite a number of variations to this recipe.  And this is the first in a series.  I just feel like kitchen-testing them once again before I pass them on to Brenda.  Experience has taught me that the simplest of recipes are sometimes the hardest to do.  There just aren’t many ingredients to boost flavors or mask imperfections.

Over low fire, I slowly warm six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in my heavy bottom 8.5” Tools of the Trade skillet.  In it I sauté four cloves of finely minced garlic.  Just when the garlic’s flavor begins to permeate the oil, I add exactly four dashes of cayenne pepper and mix everything well.  I turn up the heat to medium-high and before any of the garlic turns brown (no browning at all please!), I add the tomatoes.  I bring the sauce to a simmer – not to a boil – for about five minutes.  I taste it before I season it with about a pinch of salt.

I didn’t have basil leaves last night.  But surprisingly, this sauce tasted great with just a generous grating of parmesan cheese, served over freshly cooked pasta.  Perfecto every single time!

Sautéing finely minced garlic and ground cayenne pepper in extra virgin olive oil.


This sauce tastes great! I love the chunks! But for a smoother sauce, you can pass the diced tomatoes through a food mill – not the blender or food processor!



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