Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How to Cook Spaghetti Sauce.

Italian food is cooked with the senses -- taste, smell, sight, and touch -- and not with measuring cups. Add common sense, patience, experimentation, failure, and love, lots of love, and eventually molto bene is achieved.

Italian-food cooking is social. Tomato sauce is at the center of that communion because it needs looking after, which gives everyone a chance to visit the kitchen, taste, have a glass of wine with the chef and talk about food, politics, religion and everything else. It's like a campfire, except it's inside.

All this to say, I don't have a recipe for great spaghetti sauce but I could cook it tomorrow, and I think it's as good as you can get. You start with good meats: meatballs and Italian sausage. My beautiful daughter makes a perfect meatball, she has the recipe here: meatball-recipe. For some reason, I don't care for the meatball making process, so if it is left to me I just buy Italian sausage.

There are a thousand on-line recipes for spaghetti sauce and I am not going to add another. What I am going to do is to suggest certain procedures that will make your tomato-based sauce good.
  1. Purchase cans of whole tomatoes or diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. If you can buy fresh whole tomatoes and de-seed them great. Do not buy romas anymore. They are tasteless. Tasty tomatoes yield tasty tomato sauce. Hunts is a good dependable choice. If you have another favorite, by all means use them. Get diced or whole not crushed.
  2. Taste the tomatoes and sauce before pouring into pot. If it tastes bad cold the addition of heat and oregano won't make it taste good.
  3. Use a thick, cast iron type pot. When my wife and I were first married we bought a set of Le Crousset cookware. Their big pot is perfect for tomato sauce with a thick bottom and a ceramic finish.
  4. Add Italian sausage in first to sear the sausage, then olive oil, fresh sliced garlic. Don't toast the garlic. Don't cook the sausage completely, let them cook in the hot spaghetti sauce.
  5. Pour in the tomatoes.
  6. Cover until hot enough to steam, stirring at bottom frequently.
  7. Lower the heat, pull the cover back so that steam can be released and the sauce can reduce, but keep the cover partially covering pot. I want low heat and I want the flame away from the bottom of the pot so I don't have to worry about scorching. I achieve this at home by stacking two grill guards on top of each other, which raises the pot about one inch.
  8. Allow 4 hours of very low cooking, stirring the sides and bottom about every 15 minutes with a wooden spoon. You may taste from the wood spoon. If the spoon is old and chipped it will make the sauce taste better.
  9. Thirty minutes before completion add Italian seasonings. Remember, oregano should enhance the good tomato flavor, not be the flavor. I let my wife do this because I don't like to ruin that pure intense, tomato flavor. It makes me nervous.
  10. Sugar? I don't use it. I do not like sweet sauces.
  11. Make extra, spaghetti sauce can be frozen and reheated.
What is being accomplished is this: the taste of real tomato-based spaghetti sauce is in the reduction of the tomato so that the tomato taste is intense and the texture is thick enough to cover the spaghetti without water being released to the plate. Look for a deep red color with rainbow like swirls of purple in the oil released from the sausage and meatballs. The sauce will also get a "lumpiness" to it as the tomatoes get close. If meatballs are added I add them an hour or so before the sauce is done.

Buon appetito!

Also see: How to cook spaghetti noodles:


Lizzie said...

I'm just going to go over one day and have her show me how to make the meatballs. It is fun cooking with her because she inherited your non-measuring, no recipe style of cooking. Something that is sometimes hard to duplicate on my own successfully ;)

Francis Shivone said...

Thanks Liz -- they are good.

Fort said...

What's the difference between spaghetti sauce and marinara?

Francis Shivone said...

I grew up with spaghetti sauce which in other parts of the country is called "marinara." Technically, there may be a difference, but not one that I know of.
Actually, spaghetti sauce was mostly called just "sauce," as in Mexican food, where it is called, salsa.