“There are so many ways to make a tomato sauce. You can use fresh tomatoes or canned, but should you use onion or garlic, or both? What about the sofrito? That base of carrot, celery and onion, the backbone of Italian cooking. And what herbs? Basil, thyme or parsley? And do you add them at the start or at the end? Some cooks blend the sauce for a velvety finish, others prefer a good chunky texture. Some finish their sauce with olive oil, others with a knob of butter. Then what about the cooking times? Fast and furious or slow and steady? The answers are really all up to you.
“Here I give you my basic, no-fuss tomato sauce: canned tomatoes, garlic, basil and butter (I like the gloss butter gives) with a medium cooking time. Serve adorned with a generous dollop of stracciatella or buffalo mozzarella and a sprinkling of crisp, golden breadcrumbs.”
3 garlic cloves
100 ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
400 g canned whole peeled tomatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 basil sprig
2 slices of day-old crusty bread, such as sourdough (I prefer fresh breadcrumbs, but panko breadcrumbs are a good substitute)
Fresh pasta for 4 people or 320 gm of dried pasta in any long shape
Zest of 1 lemon
125 g stracciatella or buffalo mozzarella
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to serve
Heat a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Finely chop two of the garlic cloves.
When the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the chopped garlic and sizzle for 20 seconds, then empty in the can of tomatoes to stop the garlic from burning. Fill the can halfway with water and pour that in, too. Give everything a big stir and take a deep breath. Add the butter, basil and a generous pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 30 minutes while you get on with the rest of the recipe.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a lively boil and season as salty as the sea.
Meanwhile, cut the bread into chunks. Using a food processor, pulse the bread intro breadcrumbs ranging from very fine to slightly bigger.
Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium–high heat. Throw in the remaining whole garlic clove, along with the breadcrumbs, and sauté for 5 minutes or until golden and crisp. Drain the breadcrumbs on a piece of paper towel and allow to cool. Discard the garlic clove.
When the sauce is ready, cook the pasta in the saucepan of salted water until al dente. Using tongs, fling the pasta directly into the sauce, along with 125 ml (1/2 cup) of the cooking water and the lemon zest. Toss the pasta in the sauce until it is really well coated and the sauce sticks to each strand.
Divide the pasta among bowls. Plop a heaped tablespoon of stracciatella or buffalo mozzarella in the centre of each bowl and top with the breadcrumbs. Grate Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
This is an extract from Saturday Night Pasta by Elizabeth Hewson, published by Plum (RRP $36.99) and available where all good books are sold.