Friday, March 30, 2007

Simple Tomato Sauce (Salsa di pomodoro)

Inspired by this morning's harvest of the last of the tomatoes from my garden here in south -eastern Pennsylvania I decided to re-post (with edits) this post from last year. -BdG

I learned to make this sauce thirty ago from Helen Federico, (Scroll down to "1943") a dear friend whose cooking skills are equaled only by her generosity of spirit and talent as an illustrator, and graphic designer. I recollect that she only made it in the late summer -the end of the growing season for tomatoes in lower NY State- when she would buy a couple of bushels from local growers and put the sauce up en masse.

Although it is cheapest and most satisfying to make this sauce from fresh tomatoes it can also be made quite well with good canned San Marzano tomatoes or their equivalent.

My technique is a bit different from Helen's. For example, I never saw her use a potato masher or an immersion blender, but everything else is about the same.

Equipment needed
Deep 2qt+ pot
Potato masher (For canned tomatoes: I hate cutting up canned tomatoes)
Blender or even better, an Immersion Blender

Cooking time
About 10-15 minutes
  • 2- 35oz (#20) cans of whole plum tomatoes or 4 lbs fresh ripe plum tomatoes cut into 1/4's
  • 4-6 oz good olive oil
  • 5-6 med cloves of garlic, sliced up crudely (it's going into a blender so who cares what it looks like?)
  • 12 leaves of fresh basil (you can use less, no big deal)
  • Salt to taste or approx. 1/2 tsp
  • Pepper to taste
Heat the oil just hot enough to smell it. Throw in the garlic and let it cook for a minute or two but for god's sake down let it brown. If it browns throw out the oil and start over.
Drop in the tomatoes. Mix them around a bit to stop the garlic from frying. If you are using canned tomatoes mash them up with the masher. Bring the sauce up to a simmer, let it cook for 10 minutes. Add the salt and Basil then emulsify it with a blender or an immersion blender.

I prefer to use the immersion blender because there's less to clean up and you can puree the sauce hot without having to worry about it flying all over the kitchen.

One of the many things that's nice about this sauce is that because it is emulsified, it doesn't run off the pasta or break up into puddles of oil and chunks of tomato. Just be careful not to boil it and break the emulsion when you reheat it.

I think the sauce is best served the way Helen served it. Spooned over the pasta after it has been put in the individual pasta bowls. Then grate some Parmigiano on top with a Mouli (I'm devoted to these and have used this type for almost thirty years.) follow it with a liberal grinding of black pepper then pause, take in the aroma and sit back and think about it for a moment before you lift your fork -just like the Helen's late husband Gene used to do.

That part of the recipe I learned from Gene and it's the one ingredient I never vary, ever.

I'll bet their kids don't either.


Shannon said...

That recipe uses the same ingredients as the sauce I make. Not bad for a girl who has a Polish/Irish backround.

Joan P. said...

Thank you for this! I will try it this weekend.

Joan P. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tyrone B. said...


Can I have a recommendation for the top-o-the-line brand of said canned plum tomatoes?

That would be excellent!

Southern said...

Wow, this was amazing. Can't wait to get hungry again, saldy im out for restaurant food this evening though :(

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great recipe!
I have a new immersion blender and can't wait to try it out.
Please give us a recommendation on the canned tomatoes!

Sorcha said...

One of my favorite dishes is cappelini pomodoro, and every time I've had it, the tomatoes and garlic have been in fairly wholeish little chunks. Are the places I'm getting it from doing it wrong, or is it one of those chef's preference things? Or am I just not getting the correct mental picture for what you're making? Regardless, I think this sauce needs to get made in my kitchen as soon as I acquire an immersion blender.

Cameron said...

I tried this last night and it turned out really well.

The only thing is that my sauce was rather orange in color. Could this be due to using sub-par (canned) tomatoes? The sauce wasn't at all bitter like it would have been using unripe tomatoes.

Anonymous said...

Really, really good!!! I went out and bought a Braun immersion mixer just for this recipe. It was worth it!

chuck said...

I halved this recipe and it turned out quite good. Very easy to make. My sauce was also orangeish; the tomatoes I had were probably less than ripe.

Added a pinch of sugar and some parsley since I had it on hand. Maybe will use oregano next time. Could also grate some cheese and put it in the sauce.

Bob del Grosso said...

The color of the finished sauce does not have much to do with the color or ripeness of the tomatoes. Rather it is the unavoidable result of the blending process. See, the blender creates lots of droplets of fat and pockets of air which bounce diffuse the light that is reflected from the pigments. The net result is softer colors.

seriousdarious said...

Great sauce! I have to admit I adulterated it a little (bacon, italian sausage, and veg) but nonetheless I don't plan on buying spaghetti sauce again. Thanks.

Bob del Grosso said...


You are welcome. There are few things we cook that are easier than this. Even scrambled eggs are more of a challenge...