Despite that tomatoes were only introduced to Italy in the mid-16th century, tomato sauce, or la salsa di pomodoro, is another staple of cucina povera, which literally translates to poor kitchen – peasant food. The first recipe for tomato-sauce-topped pasta and pizza appeared in 1779 in Antonio Nebbia’s cookbook Il Cuoco Maceratese. Today, the humble tomato sauce is ubiquitous, not just in Naples or Italy, but all over the world. And it is inherently vegan. This is everyday tomato sauce aka marinara.
Tomato sauce is simple, versatile, low-calorie and inexpensive. It keeps well, whether refrigerated or frozen. It is a perfect topping not only for pasta and pizza, but for rice or any other grain, quinoa, amaranth, tofu, tempeh, seitan, dark green vegetables and whatever else you may fancy combining it with. And you only need five ingredients and there is NO chopping – tomato passata/purée, an onion, a clove of garlic, a couple of basil leaves or a small pinch of dried basil and a tablespoon of olive oil. That’s it!
Recipe (and the reasons for not using salt, sugar or spices) after the photo. UsServes four with leftovers.
- 1 container (approx. 700g) of plain tomato passata (aka tomato purée) – look for one with as few ingredients as possible and certainly no added spices, sugar or salt
- 1 onion, top and bottom trimmed and skin peeled but otherwise left whole
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed if you like or you can leave it whole
- 1 Tablespoon olive or other flavourful vegetable oil (optional)
- 2-3 basil leaves or a 1/8 teaspoon dried
Before explaining the method, let me explain what is not in this tomato sauce and why:
- No salt because you will use salt when you are cooking pasta or whatever else it will top. If you added salt to the sauce as well, you could have a salty disaster
- No sugar because I believe it detracts from the tanginess of the tomato and it is superfluous
- No spices or aromas because this is a basic sauce and it needs to be versatile. The onion and garlic clove will impart enough aromas to the sauce and the basil added at the end will tie everything together. If there are too many flavours, then you are letting the aromas/spices do the talking, rather than the tomato and the sauce will get heavy
Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat (if you are not using oil then use a bit of water and watch that the onion does not burn). Place the onion and garlic into the oil and let them get slightly golden (4-5 minutes). Stir the garlic and onion in the oil so that the oil is infused with the aromas of garlic and onion.
Add the passata and quickly cover because it will splatter. Then, fill the passata container 1/4 full of water, swish it around to get the remaining bits of passata and add this water to the saucepan. Keep on the heat and stir from time to time until the mixture boils.
After 3-4 minutes of boiling, turn down the heat to medium/medium-low and simmer for approximately 40-50 minutes, still covered and stirring from time to time. You will know the tomato sauce is ready once the onion is soft.
Turn off the heat and add the basil (you add basil at the end because otherwise it will turn bitter).
If you are not going to use the sauce right away, let it cool in the saucepan and then transfer it (whole onion and garlic clove) into one or more containers for storage in the refrigerator or freezer.
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