There is nothing nicer than a homemade tomato sauce with fresh basil. First recorded as a sauce eaten with pasta in the Roman chef Francesco Leonardi’s 1790 opus L’Apicius moderno (The modern Apicius, for the eponymous ancient Roman gastronome), this fragrant version recalls the tables of everyone from Catherine the Great to the Italian-Americans in South Philly – note bene: it’s known as ‘gravy.’ By whichever moniker you attribute to this red sauce, there’s a reason Auguste Escoffier added tomat to one of the four ‘mother sauces’ (béchamel, espagnole, velouté, hollandaise) put forth by a proponent of French haute cuisine, Antonin Carême, in the early 19th century. From its humble origin, a plethora of other sauces can be created: pizza bases, pasta sauces – like my bolognese – or, a filling for proper Sicilian arancini. A word to the wise: if using canned tomatoes, substitute the olive oil and garlic for shallots and butter – it’ll help bring out the flavour. Perfetto.
Simple Tomato Sauce (Serves 4)
8 large tomatoes on the vine, concasse (peeled, seeded and diced)
250 g tagliatelle (if using for this purpose)
10 basil leaves, chiffonade
1 garlic clove, made into a paste with salt
Red pepper flakes (if you like a bit of heat)
Salt and Pepper
- Concasse the tomatoes to the size shown in the picture – place in boiling water for 7-12 seconds, remove the skins and seeds and pass the pulp through a sieve to collect the juice. Add a splash of water to it and set aside.
- Gather together all the small diced tomatoes and chop even more finely.
- In a large skillet, saute the garlic in the olive oil to release the aromatics. Add the finely chopped tomatoes, give it a quick mix with a wooden spoon and let cook for about 2-3 min.
- Add the reserved tomato juice/water mixture and allow it to all cook down for about 10-15 minutes until you have a smooth sauce. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
- Reserve for use in another preparation. Or, if using to accompany the pasta, add the boiled tagliatelle to the tomato sauce and cook together for the last two minutes of the pasta’s cooking time. Toss to coat with Parmesan and the basil chiffonade.