The World’s Best Tomato Sauce Inspired By Ruth Rogers
When I had Ruth Rogers on the Desert Island Dishes podcast many seasons ago, she admitted that pasta with tomato sauce could pretty much be the answer to every one of the questions I asked her on the podcast. And in that moment, I’ve never felt more connected to another human.
I could eat pasta for breakfast, lunch and supper 7 days a week and never tire of it. And Ruth is so right, that a good tomato sauce is a thing of true beauty. There is beauty in it’s simplicity and in the way it provides such a perfect stage to let the ingredients sing. Quality of ingredients is key with a tomato sauce. You hear people wanging on about high-quality ingredients and really, you wonder, what difference can it make? A tomato is a tomato is a tomato. But truly, not all tomatoes were created equal. Pick up a hard-as-a-cricket-ball tomato from Tesco in December and you get a weak and watery object only slightly reminiscent of a tomato. Compare it to a sun-ripened tender tomato in Italy picked in the height of Summer and the flavour you get is heaven-sent. The more flavoursome your initial ingredients are, the easier your job as a cook, as the less you have to do to them to make them taste amazing. Hint: because they already taste amazing.
Of course, we aren’t blessed with beautiful tomatoes all year round here in the UK. Does that mean you can’t make a brilliant tomato sauce all year round? Of course not. There are great jarred tomatoes which Ruth says are preferable to tinned tomatoes. Although you can use tinned tomatoes, Ruth’s tip is to drain your tinned tomatoes in a colander to get rid of the “tomato water” which if added to the pan will dilute your tomato sauce resulting in a less flavoursome sauce.
I love the simplicity of Ruth’s tomato sauce which consists of tomatoes, garlic and salt – all ingredients I relish in my tomato sauces. I find adding sugar brings out the flavour in the tomatoes and I love using olive oil. I concur with Ruth that fresh tomatoes are best if you can get your hands on some great ones and adding basil in the Summer is wonderful.
Marcella Hazan: queen of the tomato sauce
However, I wanted to share with you a different kind of tomato sauce. Perhaps the simplest tomato sauce I have ever made is the famous tomato sauce by Marcella Hazan. This sauce requires absolutely no cooking skill at all and is the best example of showing how simple great cooking can be. This tomato sauce defies logic, it shouldn’t really work but somehow it does. It lacks garlic and herbs, there is no sugar and it uses tinned tomatoes, juices and all. Regardless of your cooking ability, this sauce is a must-try.
Why is it so great?
When it comes to essentials like tomato sauce, prioritising originality might not be as crucial as you’d think. Marcella Hazan’s renowned tomato sauce has garnered widespread adoration, and rightly so. Countless bloggers and food writers have lauded it, and I’m merely following suit. This sauce ranks among the finest I know, requiring only four (yes, four) ingredients.
The Process of Making the Tomato Sauce
The concept behind this tomato sauce is straightforward: Simmer a can of tomatoes with an onion and five tablespoons of butter. A touch of salt is added, and the onion is removed at the end, leaving behind a velvety tomato sauce infused with the buttery richness. Unlike sugar, which often mellows the tang of tomatoes, the butter complements them and makes an even better flavoured sauce.
This tomato sauce demands minimal effort; you don’t even need to chop the onion. It’s a fantastic method to whip up a meal using cupboard staples. Pair it with pasta, topped with a generous sprinkle of cheese, and you have a delicious meal ready to go. While it doesn’t replace perhaps meatier sauces due to its simplicity, it provides real satisfaction, and it is so easy. It is also great as a topping for ravioli or as a filling for lasagna.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Total Time: 50 minutes
- 2 cups canned plum tomatoes (chopped, whole or otherwise, with their juices)
- 1 white onion, peeled and cut in half
- 5 tablespoons butter
- salt to taste
- Put the tomatoes along with their juices, the butter and the halved onion into a pan.
- Add a good pinch of salt and then simmer. Cook gently for 45 minutes.
- Stir occasionally and mash any large chunks of tomato with your wooden spoon.
- Remove from the heat, taste and add more salt if needed.
Marcella says to remove and discard the onion. By discard I think she merely means to remove it from the sauce to truly appreciate the simplicity of just having the tomatoes.
Truly though, I for one never waste the onion and like to fry the onion separately with some butter to have served with steak, or smothered on a sandwich…it’s heavenly.
Serve the tomato sauce with pasta for a truly comforting and magical meal. I have recently discovered this pasta and honestly for me it’s been a game changer. The thickness of the strands lends itself beautifully to the tomato sauce and if I’m honest I really cant stop eating it.
If you haven’t come across Marcella Hazan before, I thoroughly recommend reading this. It’s the perfect bedtime reading and is truly a book you will treasure forever.
Recipe adapted in my own words from Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.”