A simple tomato sauce is the foundation for a long list of classic Italian dishes. Cooks often have a signature sauce that emphasizes a particular herb or seasoning, but the best sauces have two things in common: quality and simplicity. Tomato sauce requires only a few ingredients, and it's worth investing in the best products available. It's also worth letting the flavors of those ingredients shine on their their own and resisting the temptation to spice up a sauce with competing spices and flavors.
Place the tomatoes in the sauce pan with about 2 quarts of water and bring them to a boil. Cook them for about 5 minutes or until the skins are split. Remove the pan from the stove and drain the water. When the tomatoes have cooled, remove the skins and chop the pulp into small pieces. The tomatoes should be juicy and the job just a little messy. Place the chopped tomatoes in a bowl and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in the sauce pan over medium-high heat. Finely chop the garlic and onion and place the mixture in the warm oil. Saute until the onion is translucent. Do not let the garlic brown.
Add the chopped tomatoes to the garlic and onion and let the mixture boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Add the chopped basil and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. To increase the thickness of the sauce, simmer for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
- Fresh tomatoes usually make the best-tasting sauce. But, if the produce at the market doesn't look good, use two 28-oz. cans of imported plum tomatoes, which will also make a nice sauce. Two large cans of crushed tomatoes will cut the kitchen time in half, but the shortcut will be reflected in the flavor.
Laura Scott has been reporting for Gatehouse Media New England, Essex County Newspapers and other regional publishers since 1997. She won several New England Press Association awards for her coverage of the fishing industry and coastal communities. Scott is a graduate of Vassar College and has a master's degree in American studies from Boston College. She also attended art school in Italy.