I won’t lie to you. I am guilty of using canned tomato sauce for all my Italian dishes. I can’t help it. The bottled variety is convenient and delicious. But once in a while, I believe in giving the good ol’ homemade variety a chance. This recipe that I present to you is honestly the best ever tomato sauce. Seriously! Once you try the recipe you’ll never want to go back to the bottled variety. The difference in taste and texture is phenomenal and honestly, you’ll be pretty proud about your cooking abilities.
For this recipe, the key ingredient without a doubt are tomatoes. However, in case you didn’t know – tomatoes aren’t always in season (depending on when you are cooking). For the most part, the best time to get tomatoes is in late summer and early fall! Here in Canada, we produce our own tomatoes (yum!) but they are at its peak flavour when in season. I have heard that growing your own tomatoes is even better than buying local produce. However, I have a black thumb and I don’t have the energy to grow my own tomatoes. I mean I am ambitious but not that dedicated LOL.
So what then can we use as an alternative to in-season tomatoes? The answer lies in a can. Yes! For this recipe, you will need to use canned tomatoes (unless you have your hands on fresh in season ones). Don’t panic. Using canned tomatoes isn’t sacrilegious. In fact, it can be tastier than using fresh tomatoes. And did I mention it is easier and more convenient? However, it is important to choose the right variety of canned tomatoes. In fact, I was always under the impression that it didn’t really matter (I mean tomatoes are all the same right?). Wrong! They aren’t all the same. Some canned varieties are better than others. So which option do you choose from?
To make a long story short there are a few varieties of tomatoes that can fall into two categories – San Marzano and not San Marzano. San Marzano tomatoes come from the region in Naples near Mount Vesuvius.
“San Marzano tomatoes are the most famous plum tomato to come out of Italy. They are grown in the rich volcanic soil at the base of Mount Vesuvius, which gives them a sweet flavor and low acidity and they are coveted for their firm pulp, deep red color, easy to remove skin and low seed count”
Because of the tragedy of Pompeii, we are left with some of the richest and boldest tomatoes that are excellent for cooking. Only problem is, is that San Marzano tomatoes are only legitimate if they come from Italy. There are varietals that grow in other regions (like California) but they are only a varietal. Furthermore, the Italian ones are given an official DOP (Denominazione d’ Origine Protetta). You can liken this difference to champagne and prosecco or sparkling wine. It’s the same varietal but their region is different hence the designation.
Ultimately, I decided to use San Marzano tomatoes with the official DOP. I purchased a can from my local Italian grocery store. However, you are not obliged to do the same. I recommend that you pick the best quality canned tomatoes. To make your life easier, here are a few links that give you an idea on which canned tomatoes are the best. There is an article from Epicurious, Huffington Post, and finally, this Canadian blogger does an excellent job breaking down canned tomato varieties for Canadians!
In the end, the key to making this best ever tomato sauce involves using quality ingredients, fresh herbs, a secret ingredient and a lot of time. You want to the sauce to simmer for as long as possible to let the flavour develop. When you combine all these aspects together you get the best ever tomato sauce!
rich tomato. red wine. buttery sauce. herbs.
deep tomato flavour, rich red wine, a buttery undertone with fresh herbs.
In a large dutch oven or heavy bottom pan, melt butter on medium-high heat. Add the chopped shallots and cook until shallots are fragrant and light brown. Toss in the minced garlic and cook until brown. Lower heat to prevent garlic from continuing to brown.
Add the canned tomatoes, red wine, salt and pepper, dried herbs and sugar. Using a wooden spoon on a potato masher, crush the tomatoes so that there are no large chunks. Bring the heat back to medium-high, cooking the sauce until it comes to a slight boil. Continue to mash the larger bits of tomato. Do not worry if you can see a layer of butter on top - this is okay!
Lower the heat completely bringing the sauce to a simmer. Cover with lid and let the tomato sauce simmer for 3-4 hours. Towards the end, throw in the chopped fresh herbs, and taste the sauce making adjustments for salt, pepper and sugar.
Serve with fresh pasta and a glass of wine!
You can double or triple the recipe and freeze the sauce you do not need in a freezer safe dish. When you are ready to use it, simply bring it out the night before to thaw in the fridge or set it out on your counter in the morning. when the sauce has thawed considerably, place it in a saucepan and cook it on low heat until it heats all the way through.
The flavour of this sauce develops over the next few days making this the perfect meal to prep in advance for dinner parties 🙂