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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