Never Buy Storebought Tomato Sauce Again!

Today, I’m going to let you in on my *secret* tomato sauce. Okay, it’s not mine. It’s my mother’s. And she probably learned it somewhere else. But still. Right here and now, in the United States, it’s my secret sauce, though not for long. In America, people call it marinara, but in Italy, it’s just usually called “sugo” – or “sauce”. Implied is the “pomodoro” — ie, tomato.  This is the standard sauce used in Italian cuisine. It goes on pasta, pizza, lasagna, and many other dishes as well.  It’s an absolute staple, it’s also easy to make, preserves well, and can be doctored up in many different ways.

here’s what it’ll look like when you’re done! Nom nom.

First thing, like I explained in the “pesto” post, you need to get the best ingredients you can get your hands on.  That means extra virgin olive oil, and quality tomatoes.  You can either make the sauce with fresh or preserved tomatoes.   I choose organic ones (tomatoes are generally grown with a lot of pesticides) if I am buying a US brand, or preserved tomatoes imported from Italy, since the Italian government’s guidelines for pesticide-use are very stringent. However, since the price of fresh organic tomatoes is so high, I generally make the sauce from store-bought whole tomatoes (at least until the spring, when I plan to grow my own!). Also, since somewhere down the line Johnny convinced me that consuming food preserved in aluminum cans can lead to Alzheimer’s, I choose tomatoes packaged in cartons with no preservatives, instead of cans.  If you’re going with fresh, choose Roma tomatoes.

Ok, after this long aside, we’re ready to start cooking! Here’s what you need:

2 cartons (or cans) tomato puree

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 carrot

1 medium onion

1 stalk celery

2 cloves garlic, minced


1 glass white wine (good enough to drink!)

a handful of basil (can be omitted if not available)

1 tbs sugar

First thing, mince the carrot, onion, and celery. In Italian, this is called sofritto. It’s the basis for a lot of dishes from pasta sauce to risotto.  While you’re doing that, heat a heavy pot with olive oil so that the vegetables start sizzling as soon as you put them in.  If you’re not sure, try it with one piece of sofritto.  Once the oil is nice and hot, add the sofritto and stir occasionally until the onions start getting nice and golden.  Add the minced garlic, which will take much less time to cook, and stir for a minute. Next, add a glass of white wine to deglaze the pot. It’s going to sizzle and give off an amazing aroma.  Also, it’ll look like this:

      the sofritto is steaming up the camera! hotttttt.

Once all the liquid is evaporated, add the tomato puree and basil stir, and reduce the heat to a medium-low. Also add the sugar–this will remove some of the bitter flavor the tomatoes can sometimes have. Once you’ve done all that (should take you about 10 minutes), you want the sauce to simmer gently for 30-45 minutes. It should start to look like this:

Keep the lid off, so that the sauce will reduce and create stronger flavors.  Stir the sauce occasionally, but beware that when you do, the sauce may start splattering. Cover it for a minute, then remove the lid again when it’s settled down. If you’re a beginner, add the salt at the end, because it will take a bit of experience to realize how much saltier the sauce will become once you let it simmer down (essentially removing the water, thus making the salty flavors stronger).  Once you’ve salted it to taste, your sauce is complete!! It’s going to be amazing, I guarantee it! Now, to preserve it wait until the sauce has cooled down and ladle it into glass jars.  I usually leave one out and freeze the rest.  When I’ve used one up, I get the next one from the freezer, until I’m out and need to make some again.  Pretty simple, and 100% delicious!

Nom nom.

Of course, there are a million ways to doctor up the sauce. You can add mushrooms (cook them first to remove the moisture), olives, or a variety of other ingredients. Add some chile peppers to make it “arrabiata” — angry — or meatballs to make it appealing to a carnivore. 🙂 As this last picture shows, these make great gifts–except that they are so hard to give away because of the lip-smacking deliciousness.

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