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you say tomato... how to make a basic tomato sauce 
by Yee-Fan Sun
 | 1 2 3

Just the other day, my boy and I stopped by a schmancy supermarket that had recently opened doors here in Tucson. I was eager to discover what kind of offerings I might be able to dig up at this new market that I can't pick up at, say, my friendly neighborhood Safeway. Roaming up and down the tastefully elegant aisles -- featuring cast-metal signs and real wood (okay, façade) shelving -- I came across a line of tomato sauces priced at a staggering $10.99 a pop. When we later stumbled across a little tasting station featuring the sauce, my boy and I naturally had to stop for a bite. We slathered our slices of baguette, popped the samples in our mouths ... and shrugged our shoulders in unison as we came to the rousing verdict of "eh." Though the sauce had a bright fresh taste that one rarely finds in jarred spaghetti sauces, it was certainly no better than the very easy sauce I regularly prepare in my own kitchen for maybe 1/5 of the price. And on a good day -- when I spring for really good tomatoes that is -- I have to say: I think my sauce is far superior.

Basically, I'm of the opinion that there's really no reason in the world you should feel the need to stock your cabinets with ready-made spaghetti sauce. The cheap stuff is just gross, and the gourmet versions are a waste of money. Infinitely versatile, cheap, and a no-brainer to throw together, a simple tomato sauce is one recipe that should be in every quasi-adult's standard repertoire. You can make a quickie version that beats the pants off most jarred sauces in less than half an hour, including prep time; for just a little more time and effort, you can produce a sauce whose depth of flavor is so amazing you'll find yourself eating the sauce with a spoon.

choosing your tomatoes
Sweet-tart, ripe tomatoes fresh-picked in season are unparalleled, but for the most part, those pale red fruits you'll see labeled "tomato" at the supermarket are mealy and flavorless -- best avoided, except at the height of the summer tomato season.  In winter especially, it's near impossible to get a fresh tomato that actually tastes properly tomato-ey. A tomato should have a deep red color (assuming they're not one of the yellow or orange varieties that is), and a lovely tomato smell.  No smell, no good. At times like these, canned tomatoes offer a very tasty, convenient alternative.

Any experienced cook will tell you that the best canned tomatoes are the ones imported from the San Marzano region of Italy. And yes, it's true, these tomatoes are mighty good -- the perfect balance of sweet and acidic, and excellent for making tomato sauce. Sadly, a can of these babies will often cost two or three times as much as a domestic can o' tomatoes -- and for me, personally, that's too big a difference in price. They're good, yes, but are they three times as good? My feeling is generally no.

Regular plum tomatoes offer the next best choice for canned tomato varieties (actually, plum tomatoes are also best if using fresh fruits -- they're meatier than the round varieties). For optimum flavor, choose the whole versions -- the less processed the tomatoes, the richer they tend to be in taste. I do like canned and crushed tomatoes for recipes where the tomatoes aren't the primary feature of the dish -- they're good timesavers -- but in most cases, you'll be better off starting from whole tomatoes when making tomato sauce. As for brands, Muir Glen canned tomatoes are quite nice; look for them on sale, as they can be pricey otherwise. Still, the best thing to do is experiment -- you may just find that the cheap-o supermarket generic version suits your taste buds just dandy. In the end, all that matters is that you choose something that fits your budget and makes your belly happy too.

mosey along this way for the recipe

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