Every Italian family has their own version of tomato sauce.
I have a friend who only likes tomato sauce if it’s flavored by basil… I prefer oregano. This makes perfect sense, considering that each region in Italy specializes in a different type of Italian cuisine and our families originally came from opposite ends of the country.
Each region in Italy is a gastronomy dream come true. For example, in the Campania region, located in Southern Italy, there is an abundance of fertile, volcanic soil. Lemon trees, San Marzano tomatoes, figs and peppers all thrive there. Neapolitan pizza is a specialty in the area, with tomatoes and basil being so plentiful, it’s meant-to-be. Just add some fresh mozzarella and eat until you explode. In Bologna, capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy, they focus on Parmigiano Reggiano and proscuitto di Parma. Cured meats are showcased and the practice is highly regarded. It’s incredible (and delicious) to travel around Italy and have a different specialty food item in each new city.
So, back to tomato sauce. Mine is special because of the tomatoes I use. They are canned heirloom tomatoes from my father’s garden. This tomato strain is 50+ years old and was started by my grandfather. These tomatoes are unlike any I have ever tasted. They have a slightly sweet taste with an overwhelmingly rich and hearty flavor.
My grandpa always had a spectacular garden. In addition to his blueberry bushes, plum and apple trees… He grew beans, bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, garlic and of course, his prized tomatoes. I remember visiting in the summer and coming back with bags and bags of produce. Those days were wonderful and I really miss that time of my life. Now, I love growing these tomatoes each summer. I’m reminded of my childhood, grandparents and parents every time I prune a plant, can or eat a fresh family heirloom. It’s feels like I’m extending that time period, as if it will never die.
When I run low on my heirloom supply, I will use canned San Marzano tomatoes. Simply puree them in a food processor or blender and you are ready to make some sauce. They are a comparable tomato to my heirlooms.
1 quart canned tomatoes (recommend San Marzano variety)
32 oz tomato juice
1 can tomato paste
1 small onion, finely diced
2-3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1-2 tablespoons oregano
salt + pepper
Heat a sauce pot over medium heat. Add olive oil and allow to heat for a minute before sautéing your diced onions.
After the onions are slightly translucent, about 3-4 minutes, add the garlic and oregano then continue cooking for 1 additional minute. Add tomato paste to onion and garlic mixture, sauté for a few minutes to cook the tomato paste.
Once the tomato paste and onions have blended together, pour your canned tomatoes and tomato juice into the stock pot. Stir to combine the tomato paste with the tomatoes and juice. Add bay leaves and turn up heat to high.
Allow your sauce to come to a boil before reducing heat to low. Cook sauce for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally until thickened and smooth. Add butter and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with your favorite pasta and enjoy!