Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce (Marcella is key to the appreciation of Italian food in the western world) is a dish I turn to when editing my blog is drawing me away from the stove. It takes about forty-five minutes of simmering, but all of two minutes of actual work.
Tomatoes are the only thing I eat that comes out of a tin. They are one of the very few items that genuinely seem to taste better that way – in cooked applications, at least. Nutrients in the vast majority of fruits and vegetables are damaged by the heat. However when tomatoes are heated, levels of the phytochemical lycopene are significantly raised by the cooking process, meaning their anti-oxidant properties are increased. Or so I’m told.
But not all tinned tomatoes are created equal. And as this sauce contains pretty much only tinned tomatoes, they need to be good ones. Interestingly, I have not found price to be a good indicator of quality when it comes to tomatoes.
One top tip I picked up from a Rouxbe Cooking School video was to check the ingredients for the presence of either salt or citric acid. Both of these indicate that the tomatoes were not at their best when picked and the flavour had to be augmented to make them more palatable. In my experience, organic tinned tomatoes are least likely to contain these additives, so this is what I usually go for.
I try my very best to only eat whole grain carbohydrates now. I have been convinced that stripping all the nutritional value from such energy-dense foods plays a big role in our current nutritional woes. I always remember whole wheat pasta suffering from serious textural issues, but the pasta I have tried recently has had no such problems – even the cheapest versions. If you’re still skeptical, this sauce is a great way to reevaluate your reluctance. The hearty flavours of whole wheat stand up best to strongly flavoured vegetables, and boy is this sauce strongly flavoured!
The original recipe for Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce contained quite a bit more butter than I have listed in the ingredients. I’m a big fan of butter, but the original recipe just felt like too much. The sauce as I have described it is still incredibly well flavoured – deep and deliciously rich.
This sauce stands up well by itself, but if you want to jazz it up, a little chilli or a handful of fresh basil are great additions. ‘Parmesan’, as ever, is rightly seen as the standard flavour-booster to a bowl of tomatoey pasta, but a dollop of cream cheese on top, the heat melting it into rivulets that run down over the pasta, is also freakin’ delish.
I usually eat Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with pasta (check out my revolutionary new way to cook pasta), but it can also be used to dress whole grains, flavour roasted vegetables, as part of a lasagne… The list goes on. Have fun experimenting!
Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce
- 2 tins 400g each organic tomatoes
- 2 red onions
- 70 g butter or coconut fat for vegan
- salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- optional: sprinkle of crushed dried chilli
- optional: handful fresh basil chopped
Slice the onions in half, peel and trim a little off the top and bottom - you want to keep enough of the stem so the onion half holds together.
Put the tomatoes in a medium saucepan and blend with an immersion blender (if you're like me and don't really like chunks!).
Add the butter and onion (and chilli if using), bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 45 minutes. I like to cover the top with a splatter screen or sieve to stop the sauce spitting all over the hob. You may need to stir the sauce occasionally to stop the bottom catching.
When the sauce is ready, remove the onions and season to taste with salt and pepper. Blend in the fresh basil (if using) with an immersion blender.
Serve stirred though pasta, over whole grains, in a lasagne - there are many different options you can explore!
To make this recipe vegan, substitute coconut fat for the butter. It will give it a slightly different flavour profile, but all of the richness.
Will keep for about a week in the fridge. Also freezes very successfully.
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking