Thursday, February 18, 2010

The best tomato sauce ever

I'm not the biggest fan of tomato sauce. Even on pizza. I think it goes back to college, when practically everyone I knew ate pasta with jarred tomato sauce like it was going out of style. I realize that it's a cheap and easy dish for poor and not necessarily culinary-savvy students to prepare — but I wish someone could have told them there's more to life than penne with Classico marinara.

When given a choice, I'd rather eat my pasta with cream, Parmesan, and lots of vegetables. An open jar of tomato sauce in my refrigerator is almost guaranteed to grow moldy before I'd used even half of it.

Last month, I read about a recipe for tomato sauce on one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen. This sauce was apparently so good that other Big Names in the food blogging world had been raving about it for years. So were Smitten Kitchen's readers: while typically her posts get around 150 comments, the tomato sauce post generated 500+ comments.

Then, inexplicably, I found myself craving this sauce. Driving home from work one day, I began to daydream about how the sweetness of an onion really could vastly improve a mess of tomatoes. So I went home and threw it together. It's ridiculously easy to make, considering that all that goes into it is canned tomatoes, halved onions, and butter. Open a can, peel and cut an onion, unwrap a stick of butter. Dump it all in a pot.

I really wish someone had told my friends about this recipe when we were in college.

It is surprisingly good, perhaps even the best pasta sauce I've ever had. For dinner, I threw in some peas and topped it off with Parmesan. But for lunch, it was just the sauce over rigatoni — it's delicious even without cheese. I never thought I'd like a red sauce that much. It must be the butter.

To be honest, I'd never made tomato sauce from scratch before. But now that I've made this, I definitely don't plan to buy jarred ever again.

Marcela Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onions and Butter
(courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)

28 ounces canned tomatoes (SK used whole, but I use diced)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
Salt to taste

Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove the onion*, add salt to taste.

*You can toss this out, but why waste perfectly good food? Eat it with crusty bread or in a scramble. Or straight out of the container you've put it in after removing it from the sauce.

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