Show me your red sauce recipes!
February 17, 2005 4:13 AM   Subscribe

What do you put in your red sauce? I like mine, but I think I want to try out some elements from yours. Please tell me how you make it.
posted by Mayor Curley to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You mean tomato sauce? Start with olive oil, glaze two or three cloves of garlic (not crushed or sliced), add a can or two of peeled tomatoes with juice (not passata, just juice), let cook forever, the end.

There's a saying in Italy that what you don't put in a dish is as important as what you put in. So: no onions, no oregano, no celery (please!), no carrots nor bell peppers.

At the very end, you add some more olive oil and a few fresh basil leaves, a tiny (tiny!) teaspoon of sugar is optional and officially okayed by Italians.
posted by NekulturnY at 4:54 AM on February 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

My recipe is not too far off from NekulturnYs, except that I do use onions. I like the flavor they lend. Ditto on the sugar, only if needed of course.

For occasional variations, I sometimes add in finely chopped roasted red peppers (they practically melt into the sauce as they cook), or a tiny bit of very strongly flavored chopped olive.

There are sauce recipes that use carrot. To me it's not a basic tomato sauce, and I don't really like it, but a lot of people do, so you might. Mario Batali's classic tomato sauce is one that comes to mind.
posted by boomchicka at 5:20 AM on February 17, 2005

Sometimes I put onions in there, but I always put in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of red wine and let it simmer. The garlic and basil are key, too.

This recipe is pretty good. Using tomato paste speeds up the thickening, so if you're willing to wait a while for the sauce to reduce, omit it.
posted by armage at 5:29 AM on February 17, 2005

Yeah, mine looks pretty much exactly like Mario's sugo pomodoro. A carrot is actually pretty good to add a little sweetness, and that's coming from someone who doesn't generally like cooked carrots in anything.

Also, I often like to do variants that aren't the classic Italian-American "red sauce," but serve other tomato sauce purposes, like a sauce from chopped fresh tomatoes that's only cooked for a minute or so, or a super-duper-quick-boiled paste of canned tomatoes and fresh basil that's then tossed with pasta, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, and pecorino (this is a fantastic recipe from the River Cafe, you should try it).
posted by rxrfrx at 5:32 AM on February 17, 2005

I make a pretty basic sauce - start with the olive oil and maybe half an onion, diced. Throw in a diced garlic clove or two, then add two big cans of WHOLE tomatoes and one smaller can of diced tomatoes. Cook for half an hour or more. Then comes my secret ingredient - one big piece of roasted red pepper (can be from a jar) diced. This ensures I won't need to add sugar, and people usually can't even taste that it's in there, they just compliment me on the sauce. I always blend this with an immersion blender, and occasionally add some fresh basil or oregano.
posted by katie at 5:44 AM on February 17, 2005

Diced onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil; add tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato puree, diced tomatoes (fresh, if you have them.) Cook down at a medium low temperature for approximately 6 hours, then in the last half hour of cooking, add 1/2 cup red wine, 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, and fresh oregano, basil and rosemary. Mmmmmmmm!
posted by headspace at 5:52 AM on February 17, 2005

I do a Vodka Sauce- 28 oz of tomatoes, small can of tomato paste, half stick of butter, cup of Vodka. Let it bubble for an hour or two. Take it off the heat, let it cool for a few minutes, than stir in a cup of heavy cream. So good.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:04 AM on February 17, 2005 [2 favorites]

Red wine and filé.

But then, we put red wine and filé in everything.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:05 AM on February 17, 2005

I add a few teaspoons of molasses to about 2 qts of sauce. Otherwise the recipe is fairly standard crushed/diced tomatoes, garlic, onions, oregano, basil, olive oil, green peppers, black pepper, salt, bay leaf, red wine.
posted by jessamyn at 6:41 AM on February 17, 2005

Olive oil. A bunch of garlic cloves (6) very finely diced, half an onion, also finely diced. Peeled plum tomatoes in puree (Montini pomodori pelati, 2 big cans if you can find them), a can of tomato sauce (this combination adjusts the thickness just so). Oregano, basil, flat parsley, red wine, salt. In the States, I'm happy with Holland House cooking wine, the added salt helps as I tend to be too stingy with salt.

Brown the garlic in the oil, and when the garlic is about half way, add the onions. When the onions are clear, add the tomato. The whole tomatos I chop in a blender 'till only a little bit chunky. Add the oregano and basil. It seems to me it matters little how much, so long as you use about twice as much basil as oregano. These 2 balance eachother nicely (sweet and bitter).

Simmer the sauce about an hour. You know its done when suddenly the taste changes. It gets less acidic.

This is authentic Brooklyn-Italian marinara sauce, taught me by my 1st generation mother-in-law. (from previous partner, RIP)
posted by Goofyy at 6:52 AM on February 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

There are plenty of parts of Italy where carrots, celery, etc. are perfectly acceptable. Thing is, if you're just making a base, which is generally in the fall when you harvest or buy bushels and bushels of tomatos, you make the most simple thing imaginable. Just tomatoes. Maybe a spring of basil and/or a clove of garlic per jar, but that's it. Then when you are making your dish, you add the requisite flavouring.

Also: if you are putting carrots, celery, etc. in a basic pasta sauce, cut them as finely as you know how. The point is the flavour, not the texture.
posted by louigi at 7:16 AM on February 17, 2005

My wife (2nd generation via Perugia) makes a pure Italian marinara sauce that's delish, but I (Irish/Ukrainian mongrel) sometimes like things a little chunkier - If we have good fresh tomatoes, I'll use them, but winter generally demands canned:

Brown garlic cloves in olive oil, add already-sauteed mushrooms, diced sweet onions, and diced red and green peppers. Add 2 cans crushed tomatoes, 2 small cans of tomato paste, 1/2 pound browned ground beef, 1/2 pound of browned ground spicy Italian sausage, diced fresh basil, a bay leaf, oregano, salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, a splash of red wine, and a splash of hot sauce. Mmmmmm. I use this sauce in my lasagna too.

The best red sauce I've ever had is at Jerry's in East Rutherford, NJ. I've never been able to recreate it; my Dad's been trying to coax the secret ingredient(s) from them for going on 30 years now.
posted by jalexei at 7:29 AM on February 17, 2005

I cook the fresh roma tomatoes for two hours at least, usually with a little burgundy, maybe a bay leaf or rosemary. Always onions and garlic.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2005

oh my god i want spagetti

Mine is easy and delish: ridiculously overdone amounts of garlic, slightly less too much onion, sauteed in olive oil and a small amount of sesame oil, which gives it a bit of interest and depth. A can or two of diced tomato and a can of crushed tomato, a couple of blurbles of red wine if it's on hand; half a bunch of chopped fresh basil, a bit of salt and a bit more pepper. Some roasted eggplant diced and thrown in makes it really nice and smoky tasting, but that's not really a basic sauce, I guess. If you can't tell, i don't own measuring cups or spoons!

Also, headspace, cocoa?? Where does the inspiration for that come from? And what does that do to the flavour? I'm having a hard time imagining it...
posted by Kololo at 7:54 AM on February 17, 2005

I use a variation on one of Marcella Hazan's recipes -- I cut an onion into quarters and simmer that in the tomatoes, then remove the pieces at the end. It adds a great onion essence.

What brand of canned tomatoes do Mefites recommend? I usually like Muir Glen the best, but a few months ago I used something-I-grabbed-at-the-market-in-a-hurry and made the most delicious sauce I've ever had. I would wake up in the morning wanting to go to the fridge and eat some. I still haven't figured out what kind of tomatoes I used that day, and it's been driving me nuts.
posted by bcwinters at 8:04 AM on February 17, 2005

For something different, when I was in Viterbo I was treated to a red sauce not unlike NekulturnY's (olive oil, garlic, peeled tomatoes) with the surprising addition of tuna, well mashed, added just before the "cook forever" step. Simple and hearty.
posted by drumcorpse at 8:16 AM on February 17, 2005

Mine's pretty much like all the others, but when I do the garlic I also toss in one or two pork neck bones (and I use teeny cooking onions, the mesh bag kind).
I also add a couple bay leaves, basil (fresh in summer), and oregano while it's simmering. And would have been smacked with a wooden spoon had I ever gone near it with sugar or wine. I also puree the tomato until smooth.

Don't ask me why I do these things. It's how my first-generation grandmother taught me, and who am I to question?

Never, ever let someone dip bread in the big sauce pot, either!

Canning your own tomatoes makes for a much better sauce, IMO. But it's a pain, so few do it. I generally get canned Roma if I'm out of my own and they're not in season.
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:19 AM on February 17, 2005

I make mine chunky - Onion (more than quartered, less than diced), chopped garlic, sometimes a couple of anchovies diced up. I also like to brown sausage, then remove it from the heat, slice it up, and add it back in. Sometimes sun-dried tomatoes. Black pepper for spice, sometimes a shake of crushed red pepper flakes. The canned tomatoes I have come with basil mixed in, so between that and the sausage, it's already pretty aggressively spiced. If I have an open bottle of wine handy I will throw in a cup.

When I used to make mine non-chunky, I would do the above with no meat, then throw it in a blender, then add chopped spinach, which would generally dissolve into it upon simmering. Don't add the spinach before blending, or you get an unpleasant brown color.

Also, I almost always simmer for a long time to thicken it. And I don't drown the pasta in the sauce, no matter how delicious it is.
posted by mzurer at 8:34 AM on February 17, 2005

Anchovy. Seriously. Mince an anchovy incredibly fine and add it to the sauce prior to salting. The fish flavor doesn't seem to make an appearance but instead infuses the entire sauce with a depth and richness that salt alone cannot provide. Mmmmm.
posted by stet at 8:35 AM on February 17, 2005

Spinach in tomato sauce is awesome! Great source of "dark leafy green" and totally easy.

Just take a can of diced tomatoes, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, season to taste (salt, garlic, parsley, oregano, whatever). Then add a pack (300g?) of frozen chopped spinach. Best if you thaw it in the microwave first, squeeze the juice in the pot, and let the sauce reduce for a few minutes. Then put the spinach in and bring to boil again, but only for a short time.
posted by Chuckles at 8:43 AM on February 17, 2005

Sherry vinegar. Just a little bit.

You might also consider lightly toasted pignolas (pine nuts)
posted by amtho at 8:46 AM on February 17, 2005

A teaspoon of fennel seed. A tablespoon of good bacon, minced.
posted by sacre_bleu at 9:59 AM on February 17, 2005

vermouth, after the onions. and near the end, an oven-blackened red pepper, really black, then peeled and diced. (always ouchey to peel, but obviously key.) and just a few capers and fennel seeds. and a tiny tiny bit of super-diced hot chili pepper for a little zing up top. (also: yellow tomatoes, medium-small, so good.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:11 AM on February 17, 2005

I use Alton Brown's red sauce recipe, it's always great!
posted by clunkyrobot at 10:11 AM on February 17, 2005

'scuse please, but if you add meat, it is no longer "marinara". At least not the way I learned it. Maybe real Italians have a different idea. Not to speak against meat sauce! Just to quibble about terms.

Meat sauce benefits the more different meat you add. Sausage, beef, pork, chicken, etc etc. Countr-style pork ribs (as they are called in the States) are fabulous additions, and great to eat cooked in the sauce, too.
posted by Goofyy at 10:18 AM on February 17, 2005

My recipe is pretty standard, using tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, a bit of vinegar, some red wine, a bit of basil, crushed red pepper, and onions. Sometimes, bacon. Lately, I have begun adding a tiny amount (4-5 pinches) of cocoa powder to my sauce. It adds a certain back-of-the-tongue body and richness to the sauce, probably similar to stet's anchovy effect.

Aside to lackutrol: Try it. You'll like it.
posted by mds35 at 10:44 AM on February 17, 2005

Two answers:
1)Butter, tomatoes, an onion cut in half and set in the pan, simmered for awhile.
2) Take your ordinary sauce (I usually use onions and garlic and olive oil and good canned tomatoes and never sugar) and add some tabasco and tequila. Maybe a shot or two of tequila at the beginning of the simmering, another near the end, and a shake of tabasco each time to taste. My friend invented this I think and it's really zippy and good. You can do either green or red tabasco.
posted by mai at 11:07 AM on February 17, 2005

I use sausage because I like meat sauce over plain tomato. In addition, I use shallot instead of onion, basil, canned tomatoes, tomato paste for adjusting thickness, lots of garlic at the start and then thrown in a tbsp of fresh chopped towards the end with some butter for finishing. My secret ingredient is Worcestershire when browning sausage (which contains anchovies - interesting).

2 hours minimum, all day preferable. Even then, its always better the next day.

This sauce works great for lasagna.
posted by jopreacher at 12:10 PM on February 17, 2005

My girlfriend says the only reason she's still with me is my red sauce.

I second Stet's suggestion; anchovies are a must. Either two or three fillets or a squeeze of anchovy paste adds just the perfect touch of oily saltiness without any fishy taste whatsoever.

My other advice is to use shallots instead of onions and fresh basil instead of dried.
posted by Monk at 12:41 PM on February 17, 2005

Kololo, headspace can answer for herself, but I'm guessing her unsweetened cocoa is doing something similar to what my pinches of allspice are doing: darkening the flavor a bit, giving it a bit of a floor to balance out the lighter salty flavors like tomato. I learned this trick from Molly Katzen, the Moosewood cookbook guru, who also taught me that, in addition what you use when you first construct the sauce, some minced garlic and basil stirred in a few minutes before the sauce is finally ready really finishes it nicely.

Red wine is a must, too. I just like really dark, rich sauce. My husband likes red pepper flakes and a peppery taste in general, and I've learned to really like it too as a hotter, more robust version of the usual red. (Dang! I've been sick all week and I think I'm finally starting to get an appetite. Thanks for asking, Mayor.)
posted by melissa may at 1:13 PM on February 17, 2005

I add some chopped up sun-dried tomatoes for intense tomato hit when you come across one.

(Also - in this neck of the woods it's only marinara sauce if it's got seafood in it - what's with marinara sauce meaning tomato sauce?)
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:00 PM on February 17, 2005

No one has mentioned thyme?! That's an essential for me. Fresh thyme, sauteed with the garlic, (optional) onion, and minced carrot. Then add the tomatoes. And I don't like it cooked too long: just reduced enough so it isn't watery. The tomatoes should still be chunky.

what's with marinara sauce meaning tomato sauce?

I've always heard that the name comes from the fact that this simple sauce was popular among (poor?) fishermen. I couldn't verify this definitively online, though, and the google translates "marinara" as "duffle-coat". Duffle-coat? What the hell?
posted by mr_roboto at 3:17 PM on February 17, 2005

Black pepper! Red pepper! Bell pepper! Green pepper!

You people are all off base.

What a good red, Italian sauce needs is a fine WHITE pepper. White pepper usually rivals and exceeds black pepper for flavor and adds a moderate amount of heat as well.

It's a forgiving ingredient. When I say it adds heat, don't freak out immediately. It takes quite a bit before you feel any tingling or burning sensation. And once you are at a mild tingle/burn it takes a lot more to make it uncomfortable. It's actually quite difficult to overdo.

Don't be afraid. It adds body, and makes your sauce more interesting to the upper palate, nose, and stomach. And the flavor of it is squarely correct for Italian saucaes, unlike most easily-found chilis.

posted by scarabic at 11:35 PM on February 17, 2005

Fresh basil seconded! And add it only at the very end of your simmer cycle. Lay just a few (2-4) leaves of the green stuff on top and stir them into the mix once they darken.
posted by mds35 at 12:46 PM on February 18, 2005

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