Posted on 08 April 2010 by

Basic Tomato Sauce: An Introduction

tomato-sauce2By David Harbilas

Tomato sauce is a study, not only in the tomato but in the use of the sauce itself.

Nearly all are made with some kind of canned tomato, and all are a suitable sauce for pasta.

Not all are good, and many are mediocre or even bad. So what makes a good tomato sauce?

First and foremost, use the best quality canned tomatoes you can find. Generally, most Italian plum tomatoes are of excellent quality, generally due to a combination of the Italian climate, soil, and care taken into their cultivation. Another detail that many home cooks overlook is the use of whole, peeled canned tomatoes rather than crushed or pureed tomatoes.

There are many reasons to use whole tomatoes. First, they have not been processed and are less likely to be “interfered” with. Second, the tomatoes themselves just make a better sauce when they are stewed either whole or in large chunks. The main reason for this is that stewing a tomato sauce (rather than making a sauce entirely of roasted tomatoes, which will be the subject of another post) requires a long cooking time, which is what makes a great tomato sauce so sweet.

Slow cooking of nearly any ingredient releases its natural sugars, and the larger the actual ingredient the longer it takes for those sugars to cook, yielding a sweeter result. This is why cooking chopped garlic creates a bitter flavor rather than cooking sliced garlic, or roasting whole cloves.

The third reason to use whole peeled tomatoes when making a tomato sauce is the degree of control you have in the texture. This is where the study in the sauce’s use comes into play. If you are making tomato sauce to go with a pasta with ridges, like ziti or gnocchi, you might want a slightly smooth but thick sauce, one that will hold to the ridges.

If you are making a sauce that has some curves or waves to it, like shells or fusilli, then a chunkier sauce might be best as the curves will hold the tomato chunks well. And if you are having a long-stranded pasta like spaghetti or linguine you might want the smoothest sauce possible, though there is something to be said for the odd chunks of tomato twined around linguine that’s been gathered onto the tines of a fork.

Clearly, there are a number of considerations when making and using a tomato sauce, and in the next post we’ll get to how to apply those thoughts.

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