The preparation of the perfect tomato sauce (basic pasta sauce or tomato gravy) represents one of the most intuitive and informal traditions of home baking. Some approaches advocate for the use of only late-season fresh tomatoes to produce a good result, other family recipes insist that tinned tomatoes create a superior sauce. The cocktail of herbs and seasonings needed is also a matter for passionate debate – although a mix of garlic, onion, basil and oregano are usually included. Some recipes rely on the sneaky additions of tomato paste, red wine or brown sugar in order to darken the flavour and reduce the acidity of the tomatoes. However, these recipes do all share one common feature (other than including tomatoes). A good tomato sauce is not borne from careful, obsessive measurement. Preparing a great tomato sauce is about observation and judgement, intuition and tasting. In keeping with this tradition, the following recipe for tomato sauce relies on the senses of the cook to get a good result. But instead of having to taste the sauce, we argue that actually looking at the sauce, and observing the colour change during the cooking process, will achieve a better result, everytime.
Before heat is applied, the passata-like sauce is sharp, acidic, and light pink in colour (see photo). While cooking, the tomato sauce will slowly change, deepening in hue over time. Cook for an hour and a dark, almost maroon colour will result. Like all good tomato sauce recipes, we focus here less on instruction, and more on intuition. We leave it to you to decide when your pasta sauce is ultimately ready.
This recipe returns to absolute basics in terms of ingredients as well. No sugar, nor paste, nor oil are added. Natural sweetness is produced by removing the skins and seeds. A high speed blender is used to pulverize, and therefore retain the fibre within the sauce prior to cooking. In our experience, salt and pepper rarely need to be added to the dish at all.
The sauce can be used as the basis for a salsa, soup or stew, or tossed with pasta for the ultimate vegetarian bolognaise. This sauce is a companion recipe for our corn ball recipe (Vegetarian corn balls with tomato pasta) also available on the littlebaking website.
Put whole tomatoes in a heat proof container or saucepan and cover with boiling water. After letting tomatoes rest in water for 10 minutes, make two splits across the bottom of the tomato. Remove skin and discard, along with the majority of the seeds.
Blend together all of the remaining ingredients (with the exception of the basil). Blend until smooth. Put in saucepan and bring to a medium heat. Add dried basil. Leave to cook for up to an hour. Water will slowly evaporate during this time, and sauce will thicken and deepen in colour. Add chopped basil, just before serving.