One day a few years ago, when I was feeling especially full of bravado (blame it on the Regusci ’05), I asked someone I know, a person whom I am neither identifying as a him nor a her for anonymity sake, a person of Sicilian origin, who will heretofore be referred to as simply ‘The Sicilian,” if they would teach me how to make sauce.
The Sicilian replied, “If I show you, I’ll have to kill you.”
Hahahaha! Soooo funny!
Well, y’know, it was one of those moments when you’re really not sure who’s joking and who’s not. In fact, I’m still not 100% sure. So if I end up, say, tethered to a cement block and floating somewhere in Jersey for posting the following instructions, you’ll know who to blame: a him or a her of Sicilian origin.
The Sicilian’s instructions for sauce are as follows (the exact quantities were not revealed, so I guesstimate):
“Think of sauce as a ‘base’ ingredient: rustic and simple,” The Sicilian said to me – a lesson passed down to him (or her) for generations. “Sicilians don’t go for for a lot of extra flavors, herbs and whatnot. Just garlic, tomatoes, maybe a little basil, pepper and salt.” Think simple, I say. Think like an old Sicilian grandma. Wear all black while cooking. Speak with an accent.
“Sicilians DO NOT…” this point was emphatic, “add sugar to their sauce.” Sugar is cheating. I heartily agree.
Do not crush the garlic. It gets bitter. Instead slice it thin. (I use an inexpensive Japanese mandoline and try and get my thumb out of the way.) Saute a handful in some olive oil in a big pan. Don’t let it burn or even get toasty. Keep the flame very low.
Squish the tomatoes, one by one, skin and all, into the pan with the garlic. The Sicilian’s mother apparently grew fields of San Marzano tomatoes, basil and garlic in the old country. San Marzanos are my personal favorite for sauce although The Sicilian was not so regimented. “Whatever…” The Sicilian said nonchalantly. “Whatever kind of tomato is fine.” I like The Sicilian’s thinking here because it’s not too complicated. No skinning the tomatoes (which sucks the life out of the whole process) and no tomato prejudice – even yellow toms go in!
This includes, BTW, canned tomatoes. I make this sauce when I have a gorgeous tomato haul from my garden or merely a humble can from the store. I’ve learned that this sauce is thicker and juicier when I squeeze out some of the water and seeds into a bowl before I put them into the pan. But there’s something to be said for the flavorful but thin sauce – it’s lovely on pasta or as the base for a lamb Osso Bucco.
Then cook this tomato mixture down, poking at it with a wooden spoon now and then. It should look like it’s transformed from sauteed tomatoes to a thick, saucy consistency. It doesn’t need to cook for hours – 30-45 minutes usually does the trick.
Toss in a finger full of salt, then a few grinds of pepper, then blow on a wooden spoonful of it and take a little taste. Although the following was not sanctioned by The Sicilian, I often take an immersion blender and whirl around the stuff that looks too chunky to me.
Adding a handful of sliced basil at the end of the cooking is fine but don’t add much else. When you’re preparing your tomato-sauce-based dish in the future, whatever it is, you can add further herbs and spices as necessary, but at this point, don’t get fenced it.
I’ve ‘put up’ this sauce in canning jars, frozen it in Food Saver bags, and poured it into ice cube trays, frozen those, then stored the ‘sauce ice cubes’ in the freezer in sealed bags. Canning is probably my favorite way of storing sauce because it looks so adorable in the jars – the little specs of green peering out from the thickened sauce.
Try making The Sicilian’s sauce, will you? I need to know my life was worth something.
Take your boots off before you come in here!