Rustic basil-tomato sauce...
There's nothing easier to make, better to smell as it cooks, and more delicious to eat than a hearty fresh basil tomato sauce! It is great as a stand alone served on a bed of fresh pasta or as a sauce for chicken or veal parmesan and stuffed manicotti or peppers.
But, before starting, remember that this is a "time intensive" (that is, day long) but not at all demanding recipe. A good sauce simply cannot be made fast! I normally start the sauce following breakfast and allow to simmer on low for eight hours. The first four hours, I leave the top on the pot. The next four hours, I leave the top slightly ajar. This allows the sauce to cook down, for the flavors to intensify, and to develop the thickness that is characteristic of a rich tomato sauce.
I adapted the this recipe from advice Gilda Cardonne of Dolce Vita Restaurant gave me several years back when I inquired of Gilda how she made her tomato sauce because I liked it so much. "Simple is more delicious than complicated," Gilda said. "Keep it simple and use fresh ingredients." Gilda uses "tomato filets," roma (plum) tomatoes that she has seeded, blanched, and peeled. This explains why Gilda's sauce is free of tomato seeds and pieces of tomato skin, beautiful to behold, and excellent to the palate!
As excellent as Gilda's sauce is, I have neither the time nor the patience to make tomato filets! Remember: it takes many more tomatoes to make a good-sized batch of sauce if you are going to seed and skin the tomatoes! So, I have adapted Gilda's recipe to capture her great flavors but to save myself a bit of "prep" time. The result may not be as "excellent" as is Gilda's product. But, this sauce has a great, deep, rich tomato-basil flavor. And, because this sauce has seeds and skin, I decided to call it "Rustic." I envision this sauce being served at a "countryside" farm or dairy or an olive orchard or grape vineyard in Tuscany. Gilda's recipe is perfect for a good restaurant!
Another thing I do when making this sauce, and based entirely upon Julia Child's observation in this "era of the food processor" the question "How could I have ever lived without this?" provides an indication that a cook has learned how to use machines that perform a lot of labor ordinarily performed by human beings in much less time. So, I use the food processor to chop the onions, tomatoes, and basil. The food processor does save a lot of time and, since everything is going to be "cooked down" and, although finely diced onions and tomatoes provide a more aesthetically pleasing appearance, there is absolutely no difference in the taste. I also believe the skins and seeds are good for the digestive tract.
For this recipe, I am using a bag of vine ripened "August" tomatoes and a bunch of fresh basil a friend gave me. It was getting near to the end of the season and her father didn't want the tomatoes go to waste. So, she surprised The Motley Monk with the ingredients to make this rustic basil-tomato sauce.
The fresh ingredients are
simple: one onion, a handful of garlic cloves, a bag of fresh tomatoes, and
bunch of basil.
In the food processor, chop
the onion and garlic into nice pieces. Don't macerate the onion and
garlic! Sweat in a sauce pot in some olive oil.
While the onions and garlic
are sweating, chop the tomatoes in the food processor ("off/on" not a steady
"on"). Pour the chopped tomatoes into the sauce pot and stir. Repeat
until all of the tomatoes have been chopped and added to the sauce pot.
Clean the basil in a salad
spinner. I use three rinses just to ensure that everything that I wouldn't
want to eat is washed off. Spin dry and chop in the food processor.
Add to the onions, garlic, and tomatoes in the sauce pot. Add three fresh bay leaves (or two dry) to the mixture and two teaspoons of salt and fresh ground pepper to the mixture. Stir and cover. Bring mixture to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Stir mixture once every hour as it cooks (the first four hours) and every half hour as it cooks down into a rich, deep, and thick sauce (the second four hours).
After the sixth hour, add
one tablespoon of tomato paste and stir the sauce to mix the tomato paste into
After the seventh hour,
remove the bay leaves, taste the sauce, and adjust the salt and pepper as
necessary. Then sprinkle one tablespoon of granulated sugar over the top
of the sauce. Do not mix the sugar into the sauce. (I don't believe
this makes any difference, but I have been told that it is for good luck!
Who needs good luck with vine-fresh tomatoes?)
Turn the heat off after
eight hours. Stir and let the sauce cool naturally, stirring every once
and a while to cool. When the sauce reaches room temperature, use a soup
ladle to fill containers with sauce. I use 8 and 16 ounce Ziploc plastic
bags because they hold 2 and 4 portions of sauce. Freeze the sauce and use
when you want to serve it either on fresh pasta, as the base for chicken or veal
parmesan, or as sauce on stuffed manicotti or peppers.
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