One of my favorite Italian dishes in the summer is mozzarella and tomato salad. This is especially delicious in the season as the locally-available heirloom tomatoes are at their most flavorful. Any leftover tomatoes get thrown into a skillet and made into simple marinara sauce or tomato sauce. Having eaten a variety of delicious homemade Italian food in friends’ houses, I’ve noticed that the classic tomato sauce is always served on the side. This rich sauce can be paired with pasta and Parmesan cheese for a simple meal or served with meatballs for a more filling meal.
Unlike the plain marinara sauce that combines whole tomatoes and garlic, tomato sauce uses several ingredients that play a part in creating balance. Tomatoes contain both the sour element and natural glutamates required for umami, that savory taste. Garlic, onion, black pepper, and chili pepper provide pungency. Carrot and celery provide texture, adding colors that seem to deepen the bright red of tomatoes, and impart sweet and bitter flavors respectively. The herbs round out the balance giving warmth of peppery and astringent tones.
Tomato sauce is easy to prepare, and the sauce freezes well. The sauce has all the qualities of a perfectly balanced dish combined with color saturation, texture, and a full-bodied taste.
San Marzano tomatoes (or other canned tomato) – 28 oz
Onion – 1, diced
Garlic cloves – 6-8, minced
Carrot – 1, diced
Celery – ½ stalk, diced
Olive oil – ¼ cup
Salt and pepper – ½-1 tsp each
Whole red dried chili – 1
Oregano (fresh or dried) – ½ tsp
Fresh Basil – a handful of leaves
Tomato paste – 1 heaping tbsp. (optional)
Sugar – ¼-1 tsp
Parmesan cheese – 3 tbsp
- Pour out the tomatoes from the can into a bowl. Using the back of the spoon crush them, until they are broken up into small pieces. (Beware the red juice splattering on your clothes and kitchen counter.)
- Heat a skillet.
- Heat oil and add the onion and stir for a minute or more, until they are soft.
- Add the garlic, carrot and celery to the onions. Sauté until they have softened.
- Add the crushed tomatoes to the skillet and mix into the onion-celery mixture.
- Add the red chili and let it simmer on low for 5 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste (this creates a deeper red sauce and thickness) and oregano and basil.
- Continue to simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the oil appears to float on the top of the tomato sauce.
- Add the salt and pepper. Check for balance. If the sauce is sour (from tomatoes), start with a ¼ tsp. salt and sugar, and continue to add incrementally until no one flavor is prominent.
- Remove the chili pepper before serving.
Serve with spaghetti and Parmesan cheese, meatballs, or zucchini spirals.