Tomatoes pretty well ruled my kitchen this summer. Not all summer, the local varieties were not ripe and ready until August, but once they were available I kept coming back from the markets with boxes of them. They made their way into just about everything I cooked. They also look so beautiful on the kitchen counter that I think of them almost like flowers, decorative and beautiful but also edible.
After enjoying them fresh every which way it’s time to make some tomato sauce for pasta to serve in the next few weeks. One of my favourite pasta sauces is the late Marcella Hazan’s simple and fabulous tomato sauce with onion and butter from her book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I pretty well use the recipe as she wrote it only I double the quantity using 4 lb of tomatoes instead of 2 and I use olive oil rather than butter. I have used butter before and it is delicious but I prefer olive oil this time. The twist with this recipe is using a whole onion cut in half and letting it cook with the tomatoes, later to be discarded. It sounds unusual but it’s simple and delicious and it never fails. I am so glad I came across this recipe. You should have this one in your repertoire.
What tomatoes to use? I have made this sauce in the summer with fresh Roma tomatoes and in the winter with canned tomatoes and it is always a wonderful. I prefer using the meaty and less watery Roma (plum) tomatoes. They don’t disintegrate like more watery tomatoes would and make a beautiful sauce with good structure. Of course you can use other tomatoes, but make sure they are fully ripe and not too watery.
This sauce can be blended in the blender to a smooth consistency or kept rustic by smashing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon towards the end of the cooking. I have made it both ways and it’s good either way.
Marcella does not add any herbs to the sauce. Sometimes I add whole sprigs of fresh basil to the sauce just as it finishes cooking and when I ladle the sauce into the jars I make sure there is one sprig of basil in each jar. It gives the sauce a gentle basil flavour and aroma without overwhelming it.
Serve the sauce over spaghetti or any other pasta, over gnocchi or over crisp grilled polenta. Delicious.
The recipe makes about 8 cups sauce.
4 lb Roma tomatoes (plum tomatoes)
10 tablespoon olive oil or butter
2 medium onions, peeled and halved but each half kept intact.
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
Bring a pot of water to a boil.
Score each tomato with an X on the bottom and drop about 4 tomatoes at a time into the boiling water. Let them cook about 45-60 seonds and remove them with a slotted spoon into a bowl. Repeat with remaining tomatoes.
Remove the flower end cutting wound it with a sharp knife, cut the tomatoes into chunks and place in a large pot.
Add the onions, oil or butter and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to a steady simmer and cook gently for about 1.5 hours, partially covered, stirring occasionally.
If you want a rustic texture then towards the end of the cooking begin smashing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon to break them down. Remove the onions, taste and add remaining salt as necessary.
If you want a smooth sauce then once the sauce is cooked through remove the onions and discard and then transfer the sauce to a blender and blend until smooth.
If the sauce is too thin you can return it to the pot and cook a few more minutes until it is thick enough to your liking. Taste and add the remaining salt.
Pour into clean jars and keep refrigerated.