the red sauce

While we’re on the subject of food, I might as well share something very useful: the best red sauce for pasta.  This discovery comes originally via a Marcela Hazan cookbook.

the sauce

  • use a wide, shallow pan
  • drop in a large can (28oz) of the special tomatoes*
  • add a whole stick of butter
  • cut an onion in half, and drop in both halves
  • cook at a slow simmer for at least 40 min, stirring and breaking up the tomatoes as needed.  As the sauce reduces it’ll become sweeter and more delicious.

Yes, it has only three ingredients.  Or 2+ε, as one removes the onion before serving.  This is about as fiercely simple as a dish gets.  The style has been reduced right out of it.

A note on pasta.  Cecco and Barilla are fine, as are any of the fancier (Italian) ones.  The proper way to cook pasta is in a lot of boiling water with a whole fistful of salt.  The salt is essential for proper cooking consistency, and doesn’t make the pasta salty.  One doesn’t add oil or anything else.  The pasta is done when it’s still fairly firm.  Drain, mix in the sauce, enjoy.  Some freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano on top doesn’t go amiss.

The sauce is useful in many other preparations too.  Chunks of swordfish can be cooked in it, some mint swirled in, and this makes a very nice dish.  It can be used over polenta.  One can even poach eggs in it to make a simple shakshuka, though this is a bit of a hack.

*But what about the special tomatoes?  They’re the key.  With ordinary tomatoes, one will produce only an ordinary sauce.  They must be real San Marzano tomatoes.  Complications arise because certain corporations have falsely marketed their tomatoes as San Marzano.  One especially egregious company seems to actually be named San Marzano, but their tomatoes are grown domestically, picked prematurely, and suck.  Read the fine print.  Look for tomatoes, like the ones on the left, that are DOP from the Sarnese-Nocerino area.  The tin will cost $5-$7, and only certain shops carry this stuff.  In Seattle, I’ve found three so far: De Laurenti in Pike Place Market, PFI in whatever that no man’s land is called, and Borracchini’s Bakery in Rainier Valley.  In case you live in Jesusland, they can be ordered online too.

Even– or especially– if you’re a starving student, this dish is well worth executing with care for the ingredients.  With a chunk of fresh Parmiggiano-Reggiano and the DOP tomatoes, you can make a lovely meal for four with $12.  That’s the same price as fast food– but with some extra time built in to chat up your friends in the kitchen while the sauce simmers.


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