This sauce is a staple in my kitchen, although the way I prepare it varies from batch to batch. It depends on what kind of tomatoes I’m using, what herbs I have on hand, and what I might already have on hand and need to use up. The important things to remember aren’t necessarily the measurements, but the technique. A great tomato sauce is as much about how you cook it as what goes into it. For this recipe, some of the quantities are deliberately vague, so that you can tailor the flavour to your preferences.
1 ½ to 2 liters tomato*
2 small to medium onions, small dice
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
½ cup fresh basil
¼ cup white or red wine (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste.
* If you’re using canned whole or diced tomatoes, use closer to 2 liters or 3 large cans. Always break up whole tomatoes. Puree at least half of them if using whole or diced. For crushed tomatoes, add about ¼ can of water per can of tomatoes to loosen it up when it starts to come to a boil. This prevents it from burning. Using fresh tomatoes, remove the skin and use about 3 liters, since they will cook down a lot in volume.
1) Set a pot onto medium-low heat. Make sure that it’s about double the volume of tomatoes you use. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the onions when the oil begins to shimmer. Sprinkle the onions with a generous pinch of salt and a few cracks of pepper, turn the heat to low, and put the lid on the pot to sweat the onions. When they are mostly translucent, add the garlic and oregano, cooking for another 5 minutes, making sure not to colour either the onions or the garlic. If you’re using wine, add it now, bring the heat up to medium, and reduce it for 5 minutes to take out the alcohol.
2) Add the tomatoes, another good pinch of salt, turn the heat up, and bring it to a modest boil. Turn the heat down so that it lightly boils with the lid off. As it cooks, you’ll periodically notice the solids settle to the bottom of the pot. When this happens, stir the sauce a few times to even out the mixture. You don’t want to be stirring the sauce too often; just let it do its own thing.
3) When the sauce just begins to thicken, tear the basil into thumbnail-sized pieces and add it to the sauce. Stir in the basil and let the sauce simmer until it spits aggressively when it bubbles. For the last bit, you can partially cover the pot and turn down the heat, so that it doesn’t spray tomato all over your stove. Add salt and pepper to taste.
NOTE: Cooking it this long does two things. First, it produces a much deeper flavour. Second, it prevents the sauce from splitting on the plate. Both are for the same reason: we’ve taken out more of the water. Cooking the sauce for a longer time at a lower heat allows this to happen with minimal risk of burning the sauce, plus allows more time for the flavours to meld together. So cook it until it’s nice and thick.