Italian cuisine: Fresh Tomato Sauce
- WTI Magazine #169 Nov 17, 2023
The third week of November is the Settimana Mondiale della Cucina Italiana in the USA. During this week I join the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Trade Agency in celebrating the value that true Italian cuisine brings to our health, our homes, our communities, and our daily lives.
November is also Diabetes Awareness Month – a worldwide campaign to help treat, prevent, and hopefully reverse diabetes. For the past two decades, I’ve made it one of my missions to promote the rich heritage behind authentic cuisine that makes it both healthful to eat and pleasurable to the palate.
It is often said that one of the keys to success of the Italian kitchen is its’ simplicity. But the truth of the matter is that we can afford to create recipes “simply” because of the strict adherence to tradition and quality agricultural practices that are part of the story of each of our emblematic foods.
Each of these foods, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, high quality extra-virgin olive oil, artisanal pastas made from ancient grains and loads of fresh produce that has grown in healthy soil can be quickly combined to make mouth-watering, nutritious meals in minutes.
In each of my books, and when I teach cooking, I include a list of “base” recipes, which may seem simple to the naked eye, but are the backbones of the Italian kitchen such as homemade broths, braised beans and lentils, fresh breadcrumbs, and of course, the crowning glory, fresh Salsa di pomodoro.
In honor of this month’s culinary and health observances, and the recent release of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies, a book that I co-wrote with Dr. Simon Poole, I decided to share a base recipe. I urge my students and readers that instead of buying jarred tomato sauces which can be loaded with sodium, beef fat (even if they are labelled as simple tomato sauce), corn syrup, sugar, and artificial ingredients, to make their own, as has been traditionally done in Italy.
Salsa di pomodoro/Fresh Tomato Sauce
PREP TIME: 5 MIN
COOK TIME: 20 MIN
YIELD: 6 SERVINGS
* 2 tablespoons Amy Riolo Selections or other good-quality extra virgin olive oil
* 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
* 1@@bf1/2 pounds strained (seeded and skinned tomatoes) boxed or jarred tomatoes, such as Pomi brand, or 2@@bf1/2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes (if in season) (see Tip for instructions)
* Unrefined sea salt, to taste
* Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
* 4-5 leaves of fresh basil, oregano, or parsley
* Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated, for garnish
If you are using fresh tomatoes, place them in boiling water until their skins peel (just a few minutes), strain, and allow to cool to touch. Peel them, remove the seeds, and cut them into chunks. Then use them in place of boxed or jarred tomatoes in Step 2 above.
Most Italians make large batches of this sauce so they can have one recipe on hand at all times in the refrigerator and a spare or two in the freezer. This sauce keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for a few months.
If you are serving this sauce with pasta as a first course, the second course should not contain tomatoes. Simple grilled or pan-fried chicken, veal, beef, or seafood are natural accompaniments. This simple sauce is the base for Italian tomato soups, as well as the Arrabbiata, Norma, Amatriciana, and Aurora sauces in this section. In addition to pasta, you can use it to top pizza, eggplant parmigiana, and keep a little extra on hand to dip meatballs and croquettes into.
If using fresh tomatoes, try experimenting with different varieties including heirlooms. You may be surprised how much the recipe changes with each new type. Stir leftover beans and vegetables into this sauce and toss with pasta for a quick weekday meal. My personal favorite variation is to stir in 1 cup heavy cream and 4 cups fresh baby arugula to the cooked sauce. I simmer it for another few minutes and toss it into farfalle or penne-shaped pasta with a handful of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.