Real tomato sauce, as far as this delighter in deliciousness is concerned, is slow food. Slo-o-o-ow; days slow. Tomato sauce is something that takes time.
And let me assure you, it is worth every second.
Now slow food really isn’t very time-consuming, it just takes dedication. You have to think ahead, plan ahead; and if you have got this far successfully, you’ll be salivating ahead, which should make it taste even better! Slow food is delighting in the chemical changes that are taking place in the ingredients, simple plain ingredients that, when they’re treated right, transform.
Tomatoes. We all know tomatoes and understand the different tastes and textures these can provide: crisp sweet fruit flavours juicily crunchy raw and young, or an assault of a dense flavour when cut in two, drizzled in lots of olive oil and a generous sprinkle of salt grilled cut-down on a hot plate til well browned and never turned and served at breakfasts with bacon, poached eggs and mushrooms.
But slow-cooked, tomatoes reinvent themselves and congeal the essences of earth and fruit whence they sprang, like wines aging in barrels growing in density each slow turn of the moon.
For my sauce you want to have a few good size jars or bottles handy, because if you want to cook these wondrous fruits for this long you need to start with a lot. Get a big saucepan, one that makes you wish it were a cauldron. I use a cast aluminium pressure cooker. To this i add a chunk of butter and enough good extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom quarter to half a centimetre – a good glug. And a couple of peppercorns, maybe coarsely ground, a cup of sugar and a sprig of fresh rosemary. I know it takes a while to grow, so transient lifestyles make it hard to have a supply, but if you have a garden and grow just one thing, rosemary is wonderful picked and used in one flourish. And you know your ingredients; this is so important in the appreciation and satisfaction. This, itself, is an essential ingredient in slow food.
You can also use thyme, marjoram, sage… Once the concept of the chemistry is familiar, it is all like jazz.
Two large onions, brown or white (you could, I guess – and have done – use Spanish onions, but that’s a different direction)
4 cloves of garlic
4-5kg ripe tomatoes. (The better things you put in…)
Herbs / spices as improvised
A glass or two of red wine
First, warm the saucepan on a low heat to melt the butter slowly and let the oils meet and the herbs and sugars gel together. You can be slow with this and let it settle for an hour, or have this bit done in a few minutes. Either way, while it is going on, slice the onions in generous widths and chop the garlic likewise. Texture, remember texture. These ingredients will be different in a day or so’s time. Turn up the heat and let the oil sizzle, then add the onions, garlic and spice, stirring enough to move it about, but you want it hot enough to have the sugars start to caramelise the onions without them becoming too fried and brown – soft and sticky. For this, you can have added half a red capsicum, or a whole one, and the sugars in the pepper add a zest, which could be enhanced with some chilli here, too. This basic idea is rich in delicious potential. Once you have such a sauce to play with, everything becomes possible.
As the onions slowly soften and melt gold in this increasingly infused oil base, roughly chop the tomatoes, skins and all, and whenever you need to, dump the lot into the pot with a half a glass of the wine and stir it all until it starts to bubble. Then turn down the heat to almost nothing, stir a couple more times as it slows down, then pop the lid mostly on and go about your life.
Over the next twenty to forty hours, watch it every once in a while and add a little wine as it starts to dry. (if the heat is too high you might find it goes a dry rich claret colour – i add a little water to this and thin it out and then let it thicken a while longer) of course, it should never start to burn and it should always remain at least a liquid consistency of thickened cream. Maybe you turn the stove off and on to get a regular heat to it, or you’re lucky enough to have a stovetop that is able to maintain a low enough heat without ever blasting it on the lowest electric setting – i can only recommend here obtaining an asbestos mat. Nevertheless, let it simmer low low down but always cooking for as long as you can. After two days the onions and the tomatoes start to cream and froth and thicken and become irresistible.
Now, it is ready.
But you have too much. So ladle it into clean hot jars and, if you plan to have it for a while, add a thin layer of olive oil before you seal the jar and, when it’s cooler, store in the ‘fridge.
This sauce, added to a mince and onions and herbs concoction becomes a wonderful bolognaise-style pasta sauce. Or it can be swept through pasta on its own, with maybe a dash of oil and a sprinkle of basil and pepper, or used in a bread-stuffing in roast chicken, or…
What is happening? The oils draw in the flavours you put in them. The onions do the same. The tomatoes are deconstructed in the slow chemical process – first the juices seep into the onions and then the centre of their structures collapse in a collaboration with the onions and the flavours it conceals. Magic!