Of San Marzanos and Simple Sauces


With these few simple ingredients, I can make magic in a pan! Being of "I-tralian" extraction, I am very picky about what goes on the pasta or whatever else, be it sugo or salsa ("gravy" or "sauce"). Sugos are generally rich meat-based sauces, like a Ragu Bolognese, while salsa is a more liquidy or even raw sauce. My Mom still guards the sauce recipe taught to her by my paternal grandmother, so today I am preparing my own concoction – a ridiculously simple and unbelievably delicious salsa.


I can’t believe I’m divulging my secret, but here goes: start off by dissolving an anchovy fillet in a bit of olive oil. I know, I know – everybody hates anchovies – well you’ll never know it was in there, and it provides all the salt for the dish as well as an earthy depth that you can’t quite put your finger on. Then butter in place of the remaining olive oil… heh.



Now, just a big can of plum tomatoes – but not just any kind. We need San Marzano tomatoes: grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. This time out we are kinda doing a taste test. Various brands label their tomatoes as San Marzano or San Marzano "Style," but the real deal is designated by the D.O.P. label. This guarantees that they were grown in the protected geographical region near Naples.


Above are two brands that are actually D.O.P. (Cefalu and Cento San Marzano, though many consider LaValle to be the best, they were out at Jimmy’s on a recent trip.) The photos at the top of the post show a type of San Marzano Style tomato grown in the US – without looking closely, you would assume they were from Italy. I made my salsa twice, first with the domestic variety and then the D.O.P.s – just to see if it was worth the trouble to go with the good stuff… it should come as no surprise that the Italians prevailed!


Back to cooking: now just smash a few garlic cloves and toss them in there. And the great onion trick from Marcella Hazan: cut a whole yellow onion in half and throw it in the pot – the onion adds all the sugar we will need.


Try a different kind of pasta, like maybe Cencioni: a petal-shaped pasta, larger and flatter than orecchiette. One side has a rough texture which helps the sauce cling better – really good stuff.


Let the salsa cook down for an hour – remove the onion altogether (it tastes
great on the side, btw) and fish out the garlic cloves if you want.
Done, it tastes amazing – all about the tomatoes. Go forth and "Manga!"