My neighbours and I are arguing over how to make the best tomato sauce for pasta, and how long to cook it. I heard that you’re the expert in Toronto, and that you cook it for only a very short time. What’s your recipe?
Signed: Foodlover in Toronto
If you’re making your sauce with fresh tomatoes, they shouldn’t cook very long. I use Romas (or other paste-type tomatoes) because their flavour cooks out well, and because they contain less water to begin with, and therefore require less cooking to reduce. If you’re using salad tomatoes, it will take longer to reduce the sauce, and this may affect the flavour. Scald them to remove the skins, chop very roughly and add to the completed soffrito. Personally I don’t like onions in a tomato sauce unless there is also meat, so I tend to use just garlic, basil, and olive oil for my soffrito. I think the secret to really good tomato sauce is the amount and quality of the olive oil you use, and I tend to use more rather than less—at least half a cup for a litre/quart of tomatoes. If you’re sauteing garlic for your sauce, don’t let it brown too far because it will make the sauce bitter. Remove it when it is a pale golden colour and add it again with the tomatoes. Put your basil into the sauce only within the last two or three minutes or its fragrance and flavour will be submerged in the other flavours.
Most of the time, my mother made tomato sauces containing meat, and these she would cook for at least two hours, often cooking them early in the day, and reheating them before serving. She preferred chopped veal shank rather than ground beef, which always has more fat in it than is healthy. She’d begin with a soffrito of olive oil, fresh chopped garlic, onions, a bay leaf, basil, sometimes rosemary or oregano, all of which she would saute with the meat for about fifteen minutes before adding (depending on the season) the tomato sauce or the chopped fresh tomatoes. This she’d cook, covered over very low heat to tenderize the meat and blend its flavour within the tomato medium.