In an ideal world, I would head to my garden in late August and harvest sweet cherry tomatoes, then I’d cook them into a sauce that could be bottled and used throughout the year. This is what my parents did in Sicily. The reality is that I do not have their garden, their soil, nor their climate. However, a delicious, simple tomato sauce can be made from a can of good quality Italian plum tomatoes – preferably San Marzano.
Once you master it, you can build on it. You can add onions, spice it up with some peperoncino or a sprig or two of rosemary, or even add bacon or pancetta to it. The variations are endless. For a smoother sauce, you can transfer the sauce to a tall plastic container and gently pulse the sauce with an immersion blender.
- 1 pound of pasta (I prefer long pasta like spaghetti or bucatini, or a short, small pasta like penne with this simple tomato sauce)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for a final drizzle
- 4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (you can whack them with the palm of your hand or the flat side of a knife)
- One 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- Kosher salt to taste, plus more for the pasta water
- 6-10 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces at the last minute
- ½ cup of grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
- Heat the oil in a 2 to 3 quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Pour the tomatoes and their juices into the saucepan and, with a potato masher, whisk, or wooden spoon, gently mash the tomatoes and stir.
- Bring the sauce to a slight boil and season lightly with salt.
- Lower the heat to a simmer and continue to break up the tomatoes while cooking for an additional 20 minutes. Remove the garlic cloves.
- Meanwhile, add the pasta to your boiling water, timing it carefully so the pasta is barely al dente when the sauce is ready.
- Stir the basil into the sauce approximately 2 minutes before the sauce is finished. Taste and season with more salt if necessary. If your sauce needs a little sweetness, you can add a pinch of sugar or a slight drizzle of honey and stir. The quality of your canned tomato will determine whether that is necessary.
- Transfer your al dente pasta with tongs directly into the sauce in the skillet and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce.
- Add the grated cheese and an extra drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil before serving in a shallow bowl.