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June 19, 2007 / Tony

Balsamic Tomato Sauce

I see no reason for anyone to buy canned tomato sauce.  It tastes terrible.  Even the expensive brands leave a lot to be desired.  Homemade tomato sauce, however, is inexpensive, tasty, and easy to make.  Here’s one variation I make at home:

1 T olive oil

1 yellow onion, julienned

2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

3 T balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt

Pepper

Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Heat the olive oil in an appropriately sized saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onions, sprinkle with some salt and pepper, and let them cook until they are deeply caramelized, stirring occasionally.  This is a very important step.  It will add a lot of flavor and sweetness to the end product.  (Of course, if you’re in a hurry, you can simply soften the onions and move on but your sauce will not be as good.)  Don’t be afraid to add more oil to the pan if it looks like it is getting too dry.  When the onions are caramelized, take the saucepan off the heat (for safety reasons) and begin adding the tomatoes by squeezing them carefully with one hand so they are just a little bit crushed.  (You can skip this step as well and use crushed, diced, or even pureed tomatoes.  However, I like to buy my ingredients as “raw” as possible, if you catch my meaning.  It gives me more control over the cooking process since less has been done to whatever I am using.  Hence, I like to use whole tomatoes.)  Add any remaining liquid from the cans and put the saucepan back on the heat.  Add the spices and balsamic vinegar.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer.  At this point, add some salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (if you wish) but keep your hand light at this point because you don’t want to over season before the final steps.

Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes.  Then, transfer the sauce to a blender or food processor or use your stick blender.  There will still be some large tomato chunks in your sauce and they need to be broken up in order to create a nice consistent sauce.  Use whatever implement you have to break up those last big chunks.  Then, transfer the sauce back to the saucepan for more simmering and more seasoning.  Taste your sauce now and depending on the tomatoes in your can, you may need more salt, pepper, spices, vinegar, or even a little sugar (if the sauce is too tart for your taste).  Use your tongue as your guide and just keep fooling around with it until it tastes right.  You could serve it now but it would be better to let it simmer for up to 2 more hours.  It has been my experience that the longer the simmering, the better your sauce is going to be.  The flavors meld together better, the tomatoes cook longer, and everything just tastes deeper.  Of course, if you do simmer for a long period of time, keep tasting and adjusting the seasoning.

Last notes:  Of course, you could leave out the balsamic vinegar and you would have a perfectly fine tomato sauce.  You can also feel free (as always) to use different seasonings.  For example, I have used thyme in place of the basil to good effect in the past.  I have also sautéed julienned carrots along with the onions for some extra flavor.  As far as application goes, use this sauce wherever you would use a marinara sauce.  You could even use it as a pizza sauce if you pureed it long enough. 

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