When Americans think of Italian tomato sauce, they think “Marinara.” However, few know that in the country of Mamma Mia and Mandolino, marinara is not a plain tomato condiment, but rather a “marine” sauce (hence the name) which contains mussels as a main ingredient — making it therefore a specialized seafood dish rather than the universal basis for so much Italian cooking.
In any case, neither marinaras is the real deal when it comes to traditional Italian, simple but delicious tomato sauce — the one that can be used on pasta dishes on its own or as the basis for more complex concoctions.
So, without any further ado, here is the “real” Italian tomato sauce.
Ingredients for 4 people:
One half fresh onion (medium size)
400 gr. unseasoned tomato puree. The best is of course that obtained from straining real vine-ripened tomatoes, but there are some commercial brands that work well. My favorite ready-made puree is the Pomi’ brand–but make sure you get the tomato-only, without the garlic or other seasonings. Hunt’s or Contadina sauce also work OK.
4-5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Take the half onion, cut it in two quarters and break these into large pieces. Place in a saucepan with the olive oil and sautee over medium-low heat until golden brown, turning frequently with a wooden spoon. Then remove all the onion from the saucepan, after pressing each piece with the spoon against the inside of the pan to release its delicious humor. Discard the onion.
Add the tomato puree and three pinches of salt, stir and let simmer for approximately ten minutes. Ensure that the sauce does not become too thick by adding a few tablespoons of water if needed. Add freshly-ground pepper if desired.
The resulting sauce is a smooth, red creme, extremely light in taste and equally easy on the digestive system. The absence of garlic and other strong tastes makes it blend fantastically with most other flavors: you can enjoy it on pasta, rice, gnocchi, tortellini and ravioli with any filling — or even on a fresh ball of mozzarella with a pinch of oregano.
Italians take as much pride in the taste of their home-made pasta as they do in their sauces, and this simple tomato sauce is discrete enough not to overwhelm even the delicate taste of a good egg-noodle. Now, THAT’S real Italian cuisine philosophy.