"This sauce is my new go-to when it comes to anything red sauce-related."
My quest for the perfect tomato sauce has been a long and arduous one, involving countless cans of tomatoes, garlic cloves, and liters upon liters of olive oil. It's a question of finding the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity using a very limited amount of ingredients.
I've cooked up the $30 tomato sauce with cans of San Marzano tomatoes—it wasn't nearly up to par. I've made many batches of red sauce finished with a spoonful or two of sugar, but every time I've resorted to this it's feels like cheating. For many years I've relied on Mario Batali's sauce, which adds a grated carrot to the mix to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes—but somehow the carrot didn't really feel like it belonged. None of these recipes have hit the mark as far as richness of texture and tomatoey flavor go.
So I was a bit dubious when trying this recipe from The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual by Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo. The list of ingredients was about as stripped down as you can get— tomatoes (San Marzanos from La Valle are recommended), olive oil, 13 cloves of garlic (which seems like a very arbitrary number), and a pinch of red pepper flakes. But it's the cooking time and the quality of ingredients that makes this sauce great.
In my usual red sauce-making, I allot two hours for simmering. I always thought this was a good enough window of time for the tomatoes to break down into a sauce and release their sugars, but nine times out of ten this isn't the case and I'm left with a sauce that's not nearly as sweet and mild as I would like.
In the Frankies' version the sauce is left to cook for a long and slow four hours, which seems to be the magic number for marinara. You are left with a thick and rich sauce, with the flavor of the sweetest summer tomatoes. Great on its on or even better with a few of the Franks' meatballs (stay tuned for that recipe later this week), this sauce is my new go-to when it comes to anything red sauce-related. And when the Franks' tell you this is a sauce that benefits from a little mothering, it's worth listening.
Win The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual to give away this week.
- Yield:about 3 quarts
- 1 cup olive oil
- 13 cloves garlic
- One 96-ounce can (or, if you can find it, 1-kg) or four 28-ounce cans Italian tomatoes Large pinch of red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Combine the olive oil and garlic in a large deep saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring or swirling occasionally, until the garlic is deeply colored—striations of deep brown running through the golden cloves—and fragrant. If the garlic starts to smell acrid or sharp or is taking on color quickly, pull the pan off the stove and reduce the heat.
While the garlic is getting golden, deal with the tomatoes: Pour them into a bowl and crush them with your hands. We like to pull out the firmer stem ends from each of the tomatoes as we crush them and discard those along with the basil leaves that are packed into the can.
When the garlic is just about done, add the red pepper flakes to the oil and cook them for 30 seconds or a minute, to infuse their flavor and spice into the oil. Dump in the tomatoes, add the salt, and stir well. Turn the heat up to medium, set the sauce simmering at a gentle pace, not aggressively, and simmer for 4 hours. Stir it from time to time. Mother it a little bit.
Check the sauce for salt at the end. The sauce can be cooked with meat at this point, or stored, covered, in the fridge for at least 4 days or frozen for up to a few months.