My love for Italian food began at an early age, long before it became an American favorite. My parent’s best friends were Italian. They introduced wonderful dishes of lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs and pizza to our family. And what made all the difference was the sauce, called Sunday gravy by some. Pomodoro means quite simply “love apple”. I consider this definition well suited for this rich tomato sauce since falling in love with ripe garden tomatoes at a young age. It is now called spaghetti sauce or marinara sauce in America. Luckily, I learned to make this sauce years ago from our Italian friends. The secret seems to be the two fold. First, the tomato paste is slowly caramelized in olive oil. Secondly the tomatoes with the addition of the caramelized tomato paste and seasonings are simmered for hours, sometimes days. This was difficult because it needed to be stirred often so not to burn on the bottom. Lately I have turned to a slow cooker on low which solves this problem and allows the sauce the time it needs to develop a deep, savory and satisfying flavor.
1 gallon sauce
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh mashed garlic
4 quarts ripe tomatoes or 5 (28 ounce) cans San Marzano tomatoes
2 fresh tomato leaves
¼ cup dried Italian seasoning
2 or 3 pieces of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind
kosher salt to taste
- Heat the olive oil over very low heat in a five-inch cast iron pan. (I use a simmer plate underneath the pan over a gas flame for a uniform low heat). Distribute the tomato paste evenly in the pan. Stir with a wooden spoon every five to ten minutes as the sauce caramelizes. After about forty five minutes, when the sauce turns from bright red to rusty brown add the mashed garlic. Stir and cook for another five minutes.
- In a deep sauce pot bring the tomatoes to a simmer. Remove from the heat and pass through a food mill to remove the seeds and skin from the pulp and juice. I have an attachment to my Kitchen Aid mixer that does this efficiently. It is not necessary to simmer if using the San Marzano tomatoes.
- In a large slow cooker mix the tomato pulp with juice, tomato leaves, caramelized paste with garlic, the Italian seasoning and cheese rind. Cover and simmer on low heat for a minimum of eight hours, stirring every other hour.
- The sauce is ready when it has thickened, turned from bright red to deep ruddy red and has a deep savory tomato flavor. If bitterness is detected, it has not simmered long enough. Discard the cheese rind. Taste, think, transform with kosher salt to taste.
The sauce may be refrigerated up to a week or frozen up to six months but is best used immediately. The only difficulty with making this sauce is that it will fill your home with a lovely smell that will entice you to taste it often.