Every year when late summer rolls around and we enter into “tomato season” I begin to crave this simple, flavorsome tomato sauce. There is no other tomato sauce so pure of flavor as one made from garden fresh ripe tomatoes that are heated just long enough to thicken into a sauce. I first enjoyed this sauce at my Mother-In-Law’s table 40 years ago, and from that first tast it has remained one of my very favorite tomato sauces. Lina would pick very ripe plum tomatoes gently warmed from the summer sun from her garden in the morning, then quickly turn the tomatoes into the purest flavored sauce possible. This quick sauce was most often used to lightly dress the delicate egg pasta that Lina made by hand, and she would serve this wonderful combination to her family as we all gathered at her table each Sunday.
This sauce is so vibrant tasting and light as it requires just a short cooking time to reduce the liquid and thicken the sauce. A little really does go a long way, so don’t be tempted into dumping spoonfuls of this sauce on your bowl of pasta but instead, lightly dress your pasta to truly enjoy the fresh, natural tomato essence. This very simple sauce uses garden fresh ripe tomatoes, not canned, so is best made only when garden fresh, locally grown tomatoes are available which is usually late summer and early fall. I am often told that some folks are a little intimidated to make a sauce from scratch using tomatoes, but as you can see by my photos, it is extremely easy and after you have made it once, you will want to make it again and again.
Like most basic Italian recipes, to create an amazing final dish you must use the freshest, top quality ingredients you can. I prefer plum tomatoes, San Marzano if possible, which are readily available here in Italy. When I am North America I choose locally grown plum tomatoes, but any “paste” tomato can be turned into great sauce. The other necessary ingredients for this sauce are fresh basil, a good quality extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and finely diced sweet onion. You may come across recipes that include celery and carrots, or even some that include a pinch of sugar, but in my opinion sugar is never needed if you choose the right variety of tomatoes, and if they are nice and ripe. Save the carrots and celery for long cooking sauces as they will only muck up the pure tomato flavor of this sauce.
You really want the tomatoes for this sauce to be as ripe as possible, so I usually place my tomatoes in a bowl and leave them in my window to fully ripen for a couple of days before I use them. I like my fresh tomato sauce a little chunky, so I cut my prepared tomatoes into strips, but feel free to pass through a food mill if you prefer a more blended sauce. I also like to cut out the little core at the stem end, and gently squeeze or scoop out most of the juice and seeds when I make my garden fresh sauce. This too is a personal preference, and if you do not mind the seeds, simply skip this step.
In my opinion, this sauce will work on just about any type of pasta, but I personally use it on egg pasta such as fettuccine or tagliatelle, or a strabded dried pasta such as spaghetti. In my photos, I used Barilla whole wheat spaghetti which is one of my favorite whole grain pastas. This brand of whole wheat pasta cooks up well, and is very similar to regular pasta once cooked. The advantage of using Barilla whole wheat pasta is that for every 100 grams, you get 12 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber! I always measure my pasta before cooking and allow 100 grams of dried pasta per person which is more than enough for a single portion. If you cook too much pasta, you may not have enough sauce to properly dress it for serving. When I serve pasta with this simple sauce, I like to garnish the pasta bowl with fresh basil leaves, lightly toasted pine nuts, and I always offer grated Pecorino Romano cheese at the table.
Begin with about 2 1/2 pounds very ripe plum tomatoes.
Cut an X into the stem end of each tomato and then drop into a pot of boiling water for about 3 to 4 minutes or until you see the skins begin to loosen. Use a slotted spoon to place the tomatoes into a colander in the sink and run cold water over them until they are cool enough to handle.
Use a sharp knife to slip the skins off the tomatoes, then cut in half. Cut out the small core at the stem end, and then gently scoop the seeds out with your fingers. Cut the tomatoes into strips or a coarse dice.
Prepare the onions, garlic, olive oil, salt pepper and basil. Heat the oil in a saucepan, then saute the onion until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, half the basil, and season with salt and pepper and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
When ready, the sauce should still be vibrant red in color, but thickened with no excess liquid.
The completed sauce used to dress whole grain spaghetti.