Monday, April 6, 2015

Basic Tomato & Basil Sauce

I know there are snobs out there who think that canned tomatoes are for peasants. But, I happen to love tinned tomatoes. Yo, snobs, if you can tell me where to get fresh San Marzano tomatoes, I may consider abandoning my tinned tomato ship but until then, I will remain where I am.

We usually keep two or three 28 oz. cans of San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry and make a small batch of sauce as necessary. However, recently, I discovered a 90 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes at the store. The unit price was less than half of the unit price of the smaller can (10 cents per ounce vs. 25 cents per ounce) so I grabbed one. Then, I decided to revamp my basic tomato sauce recipe. There was nothing wrong with the old one except that my sister isn't a fan of oregano. So, I thought I would make a sauce seasoned with basil instead.
Ingredients [yields 8 to 10 cups of sauce]:
90 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
1 cup basil
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes
1 tablespoon + ¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, smashed

*If you want to make a smaller batch of sauce, you can totally use a 28 oz. can of tomatoes instead of the giant scary can and reduce the seasonings accordingly (use about a third of the quantities listed).
Start by dicing the onion and mincing the garlic. If you're not into chunks of stuff floating around your tomato sauce, you can certainly give the onion and garlic a whizz through a food processor or grater. It's up to you.
Grab a heavy bottomed pot and get it going over medium heat. Add in some olive oil, garlic, and crushed pepper flakes and cook until sizzling. This step will steep the oil in delicious garlicky and spicy flavor. Then, dump in the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Season with salt and pepper.
Grab the giant can of tomatoes and open it up.
Carefully dump the tomatoes into the pot. For some reason, tomatoes spatter really easily (and make quite a mess) so this step should be performed with caution and care.
Break the tomatoes up with a spoon (or an immersion blender if you're a smooth sauce kind of guy/gal) and then let the sauce cook for one hour. Leave the heat at medium and let it bubble away and reduce. The goal is to thicken up the sauce and allow the flavors to develop.
If you started this sauce on a Sunday afternoon like I did, by the time you return to the thickened sauce, the lighting will have changed and you will have to rely on artificial light instead of sunlight. I love photographing with sunlight. I don't mind artificial but look at the photo above and then this photo below. The difference is obvious and the bottom photo looks a little disappointing, right? My apologies.
Let's move on. So, tear in about a third of the basil and give the sauce a good stir and let this cook for 15 minutes, just so the flavors absorb.
Then, remove from the heat. The sauce at this point is really delicious already but we're going to take it to another level and make it even better.
Grab a small pan and put it over a low heat, pour in about 1/4 cup olive oil, and chuck in a smashed garlic clove and some basil leaves. I cannot stress to you enough how important it is to have dry leaves and to put them into the pan before the oil has a chance to heat up. Why? Because basil added to hot oil will spatter. Let the oil heat just until the basil starts to sizzle.
Pour the flavored olive oil right into the sauce and give it a good stir and that's it. This sauce can be used for so many things. Served over pasta, as a sauce for a meatball sub, for pizza making, as a dipping sauce for garlic knots, you get the picture.
At this point, you can portion the sauce into jars for consumption at a later time. I filled two large mason jars. I could have filled a third jar but I kept that for dinner that night.
To accompany our spaghetti and tomato & basil sauce dinner, I made sausage and peppers, which was cooked in the broiler until the skin was crisp and snappy.
I also toasted up some bread for sauce-mopping.
And my sister made a huge salad and put out a dish of cornichons because my family likes to eat pickles with everything.
The sauce is bright and herby and delicious. It was so good, I decided that I didn't even need a grating of parmesan cheese.
Here's the recipe page:

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