I always celebrate the fall season with my tomato sauce. It’s the perfect time of the year to spend some time in the kitchen cooking up some comfort dishes on a crisp autumn day – plus this recipe is very freezer-friendly, which helps when you need a quick meal in a pinch.
When it comes to creating a sauce – any sauce – the most important thing to remember is that it takes time to build it: for my tomato sauce, it takes me a couple of days to come together, but trust me it’s so worth it!
First, the pot: I prefer to use a copper stockpot with a lid, but failing that opt for anything that’s deep, tall and thick-sided (like a Dutch oven) or a big stewing pot. (Plus, it can work double-duty to boil pasta or steam veggies, also.)
You want to make a big batch of this, so I always start with cooking down a couple of larger Vidalia onions. They lend a hint of sweetness that balances well with the acidity of the tomatoes. Don’t worry about chopping the onions finely –they don’t have to be “I’ve-lost-my-teeth sized pieces!” Medium-sized chunks work just fine.
You’re going to simmer these onions with a generous glug of good quality olive oil. That’s the only fat you’re adding to this sauce, so you want to be a bit heavy-handed with it to give that depth of flavor. I tend to eyeball it, but I’d suggest 4-5 tablespoons. I always use the best olive oil I can afford. My general rule of thumb is that, yes, olive oil is an investment purchase: the better you buy, the more delicious the taste.
Watch your onions and occasionally stir. Once they become translucent, you move on to your garlic. I swear by my garlic press – it really releases all of the juice and flavor of your garlic without any waste. (Make sure you find a press that can fit an entire clove. You want each little bit of it!) This might shock you, but I’m also equally as generous with my garlic: I’ll use upwards of 8 cloves for this recipe. Don’t be worried: you won’t have that aggressive raw garlic taste if you use this much; once cooked down garlic loses that astringency and becomes almost like candy – very sweet and buttery.
Keep the heat to a simmer and let the garlic marry with the cooked onions. If your pan starts to sizzle, turn down the heat as you run the risk of burning your garlic and then your entire recipe is ruined.
Next up: red pepper flakes. Sprinkle across the pan and use to taste. I like spice in my sauce, but not so much that it overpowers the entire recipe so I will use a teaspoon or two at the start and I can always adjust the heat as I move along with this recipe. I’d err on caution here: Start with a little, taste and then go from there.
What’s next: believe it or not, anchovies! I know people have pretty particular opinions when it comes to anchovies, but they add such a depth of flavour and body to this dish, that I highly recommend using them. They will not lend a fishy taste, as some are want to believe. They will dissolve into the pan and melt into the sauce really well. Do NOT use the paste. Please. It’s chock full of salt and preservatives. I always use fillets and the freshest I can find. They are essential. I add about 8 fillets and let them dissolve with a few quick stirs in the pan.
Then, add a bottle of clam juice and your tomato sauce. If you’re making my recipe, the only tomatoes you can use are Italian, vine-ripened tomatoes from Italy. They’re the only ones I will ever use in making this sauce. They have the best flavor and taste as authentically to fresh tomatoes you can find. I’ll pick up an organic marinara sauce, and when I look at the ingredients it is just tomatoes: No paste, no additions, just tomatoes. Visit your local Italian grocer for this – they will have many you can choose from.
Finally, add a handful of capers – for a hit of salty, briny flavor – and a couple of handfuls of sundried black olives (pits in = better taste!). Let this sauce cook down for a couple of hours. The longer it simmers, the more time it has to marry all its flavours. Stir from time to time, then turn off the heat and let it cool completely. If your fridge is large enough, put the entire pot in your fridge for a couple of days. I realize that sounds a bit strange, but letting it sit somehow, magically makes the taste that more rich.
When it comes to dinnertime, take a portion out of the pot for cooking (I will use this sauce on everything, from pasta dishes to roasted eggplant, fish or on poached eggs, Shakshouka-style.) and then freeze the rest in portion-sized dishes so you can easily pull out and use for many meals to come.
This recipe is a great staple – I’ll make about four batches a year – that you can use in any recipe or ingredient you wish. Happy saucing! I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as I do.