6 Italian Red Sauces
All red sauces are equal. Red sauces may differ in their tomato base, but each red sauce in the Italian kitchen proved a perfect base for seasonal regional cooking. Some make the mistake of believing that fresh tomato sauce is better than sauce made with canned tomatoes. That is simply not true. On a cold winter's day, there is nothing better than the rich deep flavour of slow-cooked canned 'San Marzanos' with a good caramelized soffritto base and earthy oregano. In the same way that nothing can beat raw chopped fresh tomatoes, good olive oil and a generous handful of torn basil on a hot summer's day. In this section, the big six red sauces are revealed. All delicious, the only big difference is the base tomato used in recipe: CANNED/BOTTLED TOMATOES Classic Red Sauce HEIRLOOM/HERITAGE TOMATOES Roasted Tomato Sauce CHERRY TOMATOES Cooked Fresh Tomato Sauce RIPE SUMMER TOMATOES Raw Fresh Tomato Sauce DRIED TOMATOES Sundried Tomato Pesto CONCENTRATED TOMATO PURÉE/PASTE Romesco Today things have changed and we are by and large able to have sweet ripe cherry tomatoes all the year round, and we have grown to eat pesto throughout the year. With that in mind, all I can say is follow your heart rather than the rules made for old seasons that we are sadly losing in some parts of the world. Choose the sauce you feel like eating, match your food with your mood and you will be happy. 1. Classic Red sauce Before the days of supermarkets, fresh tomatoes were used for lighter dishes in warmer months. These were then canned and squirreled away for use in the winter. Fresh tomatoes are high in glutamates and bursting with umami, some of which is lost in the preserving process. Italian housewives instinctively added a glutamate-boosting 'soffritto' base and rich tomato purée/paste to their stored summer treasure. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and sauté until the onion is glassy and softened. Add the tomato purée/paste and chopped tomatoes. If using whole tomatoes, squash them as they go in to break them up. Add the torn basil leaves and sugar. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Cook over a very low heat, stirring frequently to avoid sticking, for 40-50 minutes, or until the soffritto has softened and the sauce is rich, tangy and tasty, and the oil has separated on the surface. I like to leave it chunky, but if you like, you can pass it through a fine sieve/strainer or mouli to remove any chunks and seed. (Note: Do not put it in a food processor as this will change the colour from red to orange.) 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 Spanish onion, finely chopped 1 carrot, finely diced 1 celery stick, finely diced 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 1 tablespoons tomato purée/paste 2x 400-g/14-oz cans chopped tomatoes or whole San Marzano tomatoes a large handful of basil, leaves torn 1 teaspoon sugar salt and freshly ground black pepper SERVES 4-6 2. Roasted Tomato Sauce This sauce was a late addition to the blog, and made because we had so many weird and wonderfully colorful misshapen tomatoes left over from the shoot that it would have been terrible not to use them up. As in often the case it came in last but went straight into my top ten favourites. Fantastic on pasta, but equally delicious on a piece of lightly grilled fish or chicken. Preheat the oven to 180℃ (350℉) Gas 4. Chop the tomatoes into large chunks, depending on their original size (if cherry tomatoes just cut it half). Place in a large roasting tray and sprinkle evenly with the sliced garlic, herbs, sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle over the olive oil, adding extra if you think it needs it.Roast in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and beginning to caramelize and most of the excess water from them has evaporated. This sauce can be tossed directly through hot dained pasta or frozen for a later date. 1 kg/2¹/₄ lb. ripe tomatoes (preferably, large heirloom/heritage tomatoes) 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 1 tablespoons dried oregano 1 teaspoon raw cane sugar salt and freshly ground black pepper 125 ml/¹/₂ cup olive oil, plus extra if needed SERVES 4-6 3. Cooked Cherry Tomato Since we are rarely lucky enough to find weet run-ripened tomatoes in the supermarkets, it is important to taste this sauce for acidity when seasoning. As is usually the case, fresh tomatoes are a little acidic, therefore I add a little sugar or honey to sweeten. This does not sweeten the sauce but with the salt and pepper merely removes unwanted acidity and balances the flavours. Tate until you get the balance right. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil for pasta following the instructions below. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan/skillet. Toss in the garlic and cook, stirring, for a few minutes to flavour the oil. When the garlic begins to colour, add the tomatoes, basil, sugar, and salt and black pepper to taste. Cook over a high heat for 9-10 minutes until the tomatoes have begun to break down but not totally lost their shape. When the salted water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to the packet instruction. Drain the pasta, but keep a cup of the cooking water. Tip the hot drained pasta into the hot tomato sauce, add a splash of retained cooking water and toss with gusto over a high heat until the pasta looks creamy and well coated. Serve immediately, with plenty of extra freshly ground black pepper and fresh basil to garnish, if you like. TASTY TOPPER creamy burrata or stracciatella cheese. 3 tablespoons olive oil 3 garlic cloves, squashed, peeled and halved lengthways 900 g/2 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved lengthways 1 teaspoon sugar a large handful of basil leaves, roughly torn, plus extra to garnish (optional) 400-600 g/14-21 oz. dried pasta or 320-480 g/12-18 oz. fresh pasta salt and freshly ground black pepper SERVES 4-6 4. Raw Tomato (crudaiola) This is the quickest sauce in the history of sauces and perfect in the summer months. You can add a little fresh red chilli/chile, if you like. The other beauty of this sauce is all the wonderful things you can add once you have blitzed it, buffalo, mozzarella is a delicious addition. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil for pasta following the instructions below. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, throw the tomatoes, garlic and basil into a food processor or blender and pulse until you get a roughly chopper sauce. Tip into your serving bowl. Stir in the oil and Parmigiano and season to taste.When the salted water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions. Drain the hot pasta and toss into the raw crudaiola sauce. Mix well and smell the flavours unlock; serve immediately with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and plenty of extra freshly ground black pepper. You can add more Parmigiano if you like, but I do not think it needs it as it masks the delicate raw tomato flavour. 500 g/3 cups sweet cherry tomatoes or sweet ripe juicy summer tomatoes (beef tomatoes, heirloom, San Marzano), the sweeter the better 1 garlic clove, crushed a handful of basil leaves 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling 50 g/²/₃ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano 400-600 g/14-21 oz. dried pasta or 320-480 g/12-18 oz. fresh pasta salt and freshly ground black pepper SERVES 4-6 Mediterranean Variation First, prepare the raw crudaiola as above. Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the capers, olives, garlic and anchovies (if using), and sizzle until the garlic begins to colour and the anchovies have melted. Add the diced tomatoes, toss for 2 minutes and set aside.Drain the hot pasta and toss into the pan with the garlic and caper mixture. Add the raw crudaiola sauce. Mix well to unlock the flavours. Serve immediately with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, grated Parmigiano and plenty of extra freshly ground black pepper. ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed 2 tablespoons black olive, pitted and chopped 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 3 anchovy fillets (optional) a handful of finely diced cherry tomatoes extra virgin olive oil grated Parmigiano to serve SERVES 4-6 5. Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto This really simply red pesto recipe can be used on anything from pasta to steamed vegetables, baked chicken or fish. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil for pasta following the instructions below. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, place all the ingredients apart from the pasta in a food processor, with just 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and pulse until blended. Add the rest of the oil, mixing well until you have your desired pesto consistency. Season to taste. When the salted water is at rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions. Drain the pasta, but keep a cup of the cooking water. Tip the hot drained pasta back into the pan. Add the pesto and splash of retained pasta cooking water and toss with gusto over a high heat until the pasta looks creamy and well coated. If necessary, add a splash more olive oil or a tiny extra splash of pasta water to loosen up. Serve immediately, topped with extra Parmigiano and plenty of extra freshly ground black pepper. This will keep well in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week. TASTY TOPPER shredded rocket/arugula leaves 110 g/1 cup sundried tomatoes, drained 2 garlic cloves, peeled a handful of basil leaves a handful of flat leaf parsley leaves 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted ¹/₂ teaspoon dried chilli flakes/hot red pepper flakes 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus extra to serve 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 200 g/7 oz. dried pasta or 160 g/6 oz. fresh pasta salt and freshly ground black pepper SERVES 2 6. Romesco I love this sauce. My favourite use for it does not involve pasta at all. I love to dip baked new potatoes into it… confessions, confessions.Here it is shown with spiralized courgette/zucchini or zoodles, which works really well and is a lot less naughty than my tiny tatties… Place all the ingredients (except the pasta or zoodles and cheese to serve) in a food processor or blender and pulse to a smooth paste. Check the seasoning and set aside. Cook the pasta or zoodles, drain if needed, and toss the pasta or zoodles with the romesco sauce. Serve immediately, topped with finely grated Manchego or pecorino and plenty of extra freshly ground black pepper. TASTY TOPPER Shredded rocket/arugula leaves 3 heaped tablespoons tomato purée/paste 1 large roasted red (bell) pepper, (100 g/3¹/₂ oz. from a jar), skin removed* 1 garlic clove, peeled a handful of flaked/slivered or kibbled almonds, toasted a handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 60 ml/¹/₄ cup extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon smoked paprika ¹/₄ teaspoon cayenne pepper ¹/₄ teaspoon ground cumin 400 g/14 oz. courgette/zucchini noodles or 400 g/14 oz. dried pasta salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 heaped tablespoons finely grated Manchego or Pecorino, to serve SERVES 2-4 * Jarred peppers either come in oil or briny vinegar. If using the oily kind, you can add an extra tablespoon of cider vinegar, to give a little more acidity if necessary.