Friday, December 19, 2008

A proposition

A good life is enriched by good tomato sauce.

I've gone through a million different ways of doing it, from a base of diced carrot and onion and a bunch of spices, to a base of onions and garlic and less spices, to ever simpler variations. My current favorite, which distills the sauce down to its very essence, is about as easy as it gets:

Pour a lot (a quarter-cup, say) of olive oil into a saucepan and begin warming it over medium-low eat. Peel and bruise (with the flat of a knife) three garlic gloves. Place them in the oil and let them simmer, warm and infuse. Get a big can of San Marzano or Muir Glen whole tomatoes, and tear them up with your hands and place them in the pot. Dump in the juice, too. Add a big hit of salt (this is crucial). Raise the heat a bit until you hit a boil, then back it off until you're at a decent simmer. Let it concentrate and reduce until it no longer looks quite so liquidy -- maybe a half hour so? Finish with a glug more of olive oil, salt and pepper as you like them, and maybe red pepper flakes if the sauce is over-reduced and sweeter than you prefer. (A little red wine or a tiny bit of vinegar can also help you achieve balance.) Fish out the cloves, then serve.

Variation 1: Cook about a quarter-pound of pancetta in olive oil in medium heat until it crisps up a bit and renders its fat. Remove it from the pot. Add a chopped shallot or two (or half a yellow onion) and cook until it softens. Proceed as above, perhaps with slightly less olive oil since you have the pancetta fat. Finish as above, adding back in the pancetta and a good hit of red pepper flakes. Serve with penne.

Variation 2: Reduce the sauce with a few basil leaves in it (fish them out before you serve) for extra perfume.

Bonus cooking-mojo tip: This recipe dresses a pound of pasta adequately. Remember, you don't want your pasta swimming in sauce. If the sauce is too thick, you can thin it out a little by nabbing some of the starchy pasta-cooking water from the pot and stirring it in. This supposedly helps the sauce and pasta harmonize.

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