22 September 2014

A sauce from the past

I asked my mother the other day if she had made tomato sauce in the past, and the answer was along the lines of what I expected: I have, or I used to, citing two ways off the top of her head, involving long simmers and chopping of things. "This involves no chopping. Just slicing an onion in half and coarsly cutting maybe 10 roma tomatoes," I replied. She nodded, indicating consideration, surprise, even. The conversation made me think of how today's younger folk learn to cook versus our predecessors. We Pin, look at pictures and read comments. Therefore, things seem very accessible, ever-changing, even. But I want more things in my back pocket. For the majority of people, homemade tomato sauce connotes images of an Italian grandmother who cooked by intuitive handfuls and had lots of time to taste, simmer and adjust. But Marcella Hazan's classic recipe won't ruin your manicure and can be completed in under an hour, while you sit on the couch nearby on the Internet, listening to the simmer. And who knows, maybe this was the one in grandma's back pocket. 

What I really want to encourage you to do with this though, is use fresh tomatoes. At the end of their season now, low-water tomatoes like romas, are primed for this. I used a pound of fresh romas, which were being sold by the dozen in little plastic bins at the farm market. I quickly blanched them then peeled their skins off before giving them a rough chop and pouring them into a pot with half an onion and a little over two tablespoons butter. Since I had to taste it just after cooking to check for salt, I stole a spoonful as a condiment to fried eggs at lunch. Which makes ever having put ketchup on eggs seem preposterous. Tomato sauce, in fine dollops, is a fine complement to lacy white and slightly molten yolks. If you make this sauce some day when you haven't pasta around, try a spoonful of tomato sauce and a few shavings of parmesan on your eggs instead, and be impressed. That said, the sauce was delicious the next night reserved for its intention: stirred into penne with sweet sausage and showered with lots of fresh basil and parmesan. I think I'm going to fetch another basket of romas at the market now to make this again and stash in the freezer, before the month is over. I hope you do, too. 

Marcella's Tomato Sauce with Fresh Romas, Onion and Butter
Adapted from Food52 via Essentials of Italian Cooking

1 lb roma tomatoes*
1/2 a large yellow onion
2.5 Tbsp / 35 grams good butter
1/4 tsp salt + more to taste
Few grinds black pepper

Blanch tomatoes: 
Plunge tomatoes in boiling water for a minute (boil a bit of water in the same pot you intend to make the sauce). Drain, and, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, skin and cut into coarse pieces. 

Set the tomatoes into the dry pot with the onion half and the butter and salt and cook uncovered at a very slow, steady simmer for about 45-55 minutes, until thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir every 10 minutes or from time to time, mashing larger pieces of tomato with the back of a wood spoon. Remove from the heat, taste and add a little more salt and pepper, store a few days in the fridge in a jar or freeze for longer.

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