Friday, September 30, 2005

A Tomato By Any Other Name

I hit the jackpot on Thursday afternoon and finally got my hands on some cans of San Marzano tomatoes. This took two days, four stores and considerable consternation on my part. I had a recipe for Basic Tomato Sauce that I pulled from the AJC Food Section recently, and in my eternal confusion over the subtle, if any, differences between tomato sauce, marinara and spaghetti sauce, I have now embarked upon a bold journey to see if I can articulate the nuances.
I quote the following from the same column in which I found the tomato sauce recipe, "According to chef and Italian cooking expert Lydia Bastianich, there's a difference between marinara sauce and tomato sauce. Marinara is a quick and chunky sauce, seasoned with garlic and maybe basil or oregano. Tomato sauce...uses pureed tomatoes, onion, carrot and celery and is simmered until rich and thick."

The information above was already more than I possessed before I scoured the town to find these fabled tomatoes with which to make the recipe. I am still flummoxed though, in that neither the recipe nor the column it rode in on make any mention as to whether these two sauces are to be served differently as well. I have always used these terms interchangeably, and I was under the impression that both would be served in lasagna, on pizzas, and over spaghetti. After trying this recipe last night, and serving it sparingly with whole-wheat angel hair pasta topped with crumbled feta cheese, I realize there is some error to my ways (though I am hard pressed to figure out what it is).

This particular sauce was very tart and faintly sweet, sort of what you might expect in a creole. In the past, when I have served spaghetti, I have seasoned my red sauce with parsley, oregano, basil, etc to within an inch of its life. Therefore, of course, I am unaccustomed to much in the way of tartness on top of my noodles. I wanted more depth, more texture, less piquancy. The tomato sauce recipe used no sugar (unlike many marinara sauces), but I suspect the carrots contributed significantly to the sweetness. The San Marzano tomatoes themselves were out of this world and were almost worth their expense ($6.00 for a 28-oz can at the most expensive market in town).

  • Two 28-oz cans whole, peeled San Marzano plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 small carrots, grated
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  1. Using your fingers, crush the tomatoes to a coarse puree. Set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, taking care not to singe the garlic, for about 45 seconds.
  3. Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaves; season lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer.
  5. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 30 to 45 minutes.
  6. Remove the bay leaves. Taste and adjust for salt & pepper. Season with red pepper flakes.
I have a LOT of this sauce leftover and I froze it last night (because who wants to waste such a rich investment in tomatoes of all things) in order to give me time to research how best to serve the stuff. I'm sure it would be perfect in the custard-like lasagna recipe that I tried recently, but I'm more curious as to whether it would be a bastardization for me to use this sauce as a base with which to add chopped vegetables and herbs and yet still serve it over spaghetti.

I have done some half-hearted internet searching today for more clarification, but I have been up since 4:00 am and I am a little too punchy for this right now.

So. Much. To. Learn.

1 comment:

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