Tomato sauce is a staple in Italian cooking and other cuisines. Many families have special recipes for their own tomato sauces. Such sauces are served during leisurely Sunday afternoon meals featuring pasta and meats.
Tomato-based sauces have many names among Italians. “Sugo” is a word that broadly defines “sauce,” and can be applied to tomato-based varieties. “Ragú” implies that the sauce was reduced to obtain a more concentrated flavor profile after cooking it for hours. Marinara originated in Naples and means “sailor-style.” It is a classic sugo made from a few simple ingredients. An alternative to simmered sugo is salsa, which is made quickly with pureed tomatoes and does not contain meat or vegetables. It’s ideal as a summer dressing for pasta and needn’t be cooked for long.
It’s relatively easy to make homemade tomato sauce, and by doing so one can save quite a bit of money over the jarred varieties sold at supermarkets. The freshness of homemade sauce cannot be replicated — especially if the sugo is made with tomatoes plucked from a backyard garden. For those new to homemade sauce, this recipe for “Sugo di Pomodoro” from “Nick Stellino’s Family Kitchen” (G.P Putnam’s Sons) is a fine place to start.
Sugo di Pomodoro
Makes 51⁄2 cups
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup finely chopped onion
1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can peeled Italian tomatoes with basil, drained and chopped, juice reserved (see tip below)
12 fresh basil leaves, or 11⁄4 teaspoons dried
1⁄4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt (see tip below)
1. In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the oil, garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring well. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano, and salt. Stir well and cook 5 minutes over medium heat.
2. Add the reserved tomato juice, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. When the sauce has finished cooking, let it cool to room temperature, and then process to a smooth consistency in a food processor. You may notice that the color changes slightly in the processor; do not worry — this is normal, and it will not affect the flavor. The sauce can be frozen for up to a month.
Chef’s tips: The best canned tomatoes to use in this sauce are those packed in Italy; the American product tends to be too tart. If you use American tomatoes, add 1⁄2 teaspoon sugar when you are cooking them.
This is a basic sauce used mainly to prepare other sauces. If you want to use it over pasta, you might add a bit more salt, according to your taste.