Makes about 3 quarts of sauce
When they ripen my tomato plants ripen—by the bushel it seems—we make these sauces, one with just tomatoes and the other with tomatoes and eggplant. We make both of these in large quantities, in part because the plants are so productive (and Grandma won’t let anything go to waste), but mostly because they are so delicious and versatile. I put them on pasta, eggs, meats and other vegetables. They are key components in some of my favorite summer creations, including the vegetable lasagne and skillet grattinati that you will find later in this chapter. And I freeze as much of both sauces as I can—they keep for months and retain their fresh, summery flavor. It’s a joy to cook with them in December or January!
- 8 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 cups finely chopped onions, about 1 1/4 pounds
- 1/3 cup finely chopped garlic
- 2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon peperoncino (to your taste)
- 8 large branches of basil with lots of leaves (or smaller stems, tied together)
Prepare the tomatoes for sauce, and mix all the pulp and strained juices together.
Put the oil in the saucepan, add the onions and 1 teaspoon of the salt, set over medium heat, and stir well. Cook and soften the onions for 7 minutes or so, stirring frequently and adjusting the heat to make sure they don’t brown.
When the onions are wilted, golden and translucent, push them aside to clear a space in the bottom of the pan. Drop in the garlic in the “hot spot,” spread the bits and let them caramelize slightly, for a minute or more, then stir them together with the onions. Pour 2 tablespoons of water into the pan, stir everything well and let the vegetables cook and soften for another minute.
Adding the Tomatoes and Seasonings:
Pour the prepared tomatoes into the saucepan (slosh out your tomato bowl with a cup or two of water, and pour in those juices too). Sprinkle in the peperoncino and another teaspoon of salt and stir well to blend the seasonings and sautéed onion and garlic into the tomatoes. Finally, push the “bouquet” of basil branches into the pot; pressing them down with a spoon until they’re completely submerged.
Cover the pan, raise the heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring occasionally, then turn the heat down so the surface is just bubbling gently, and cook covered. Stir occasionally and adjust the heat to maintain the slow perking.
When the tomatoes have cooked thoroughly and broken down, after 30 minutes or so, remove the cover. Raise the heat slightly, so the perking picks up a bit and the sauce begins to reduce in volume. Stir now and then, more frequently as the sauce thickens, to prevent scorching. Don’t rush—it will take an hour or more of steady slow cooking to concentrate the tomatoes.
When the sauce is no longer watery and has the consistency you like, remove the pan from the heat. Taste it and stir in salt if needed. Let it cool and, before using or storing, pull out the basil branches, shaking them over the pot to get every last bit of sauce.
The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week or in the freezer, in a properly filled and sealed container, through the winter.