Start with a Great Sauce

By: Damien DiPaola

The most famous Italian, Cristoforo Columbo or Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa in 1451, made the most significant contribution to the arrival of the tomato to Italy. After his famous voyage to discover a faster route to India, he landed at the Americas and brought back many of its rich bounties, one of which was the tomato. Imagine Italian cuisine sans tomatoes! At first the tomato, a member of the “nightshade” family was considered poisonous and was used strictly as an ornament. What? The first tomatoes to arrive in Italy were golden, thus the word “pomo d’oro” or golden apple. It is further believed that the first red tomatoes came to Italy from Morocco, thus the word “pomo di moro” or Moors apple.

Who made the first tomato sauce?

Some say Neapolitans, some say Sicilians, some say Ligurians. I say, “who cares.” It’s all good. A good tomato sauce is the backbone of a good Italian restaurant. If the tomato sauce isn’t good, rest assured that the rest of the food isn’t going to be any better. As easy as it is to make a good sauce, there are many places that can’t do it. They complicate it. Too many ingredients, too much frying, too much garlic, too much, too much, too much. With so many different ways to make a sauce, it’s hard to pick just one. Well, pick one! Some people like to fry lots of garlic and onions with peppers and mushrooms. Some people think the sauce should cook for hours or days. Keep in mind that a basic tomato sauce should be just that, basic. My mamma’s tomato sauce is by far the best tomato sauce ever made. The best sauce ever? Yes. What makes her sauce so good is that your palate gets lightly hit with sweet tomato in one wave, fresh and minty basil in the next wave, a hint of garlic follows and then the true Italian flavor of high quality, ethereal, extra virgin olive oil.

The point being (or the flavor being) is that nothing jumps out at you and buries all the other flavors. As a chef, one really dishearten- ing occurrence is when the customer asks for “extra garlic.” Extra garlic is not a good thing people! The proper amount of garlic is good. A tomato sauce should taste and smell like a heavenly and fresh tomato.


If you give this recipe to anyone else, you will be hit with a curse, so beware! These are the basics; you can follow up and make other sauces using this recipe as your base.

3 lbs. canned imported San Marzano peeled tomatoes (no substitute!)
4 garlic cloves peeled and smashed with the flat of the knife (do not chop)
1 small whole yellow onion, peeled
5 large fresh basil leaves, torn coarsely by hand Sicilian sea salt, to taste high quality extra virgin olive oil to finish

  1. Open the can of tomatoes and place in a medium size pot. Crush the tomatoes by hand.
NOTE – Why not buy already crushed tomatoes and save a step? Crushed to- matoes become crushed tomatoes because they are bruised and substandard. Stop being lazy and follow the instructions. 2. Place pot on stove on a high flame, keep an eye on the tomatoes and stir occasionally.
  1. Put the small peeled whole onion into the sauce.
  2. Put the garlic cloves that have been smashed flat (not chopped) into the sauce in their somewhat whole state. Add a teaspoon of salt. Keep stirring the sauce.
NOTE – When do I add the pepper? Never. Adding black pepper to a tomato sauce will make it harsh and bitter. No pepper!
  1. When the sauce comes to a boil, lower the flame to a simmer. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes at a gently rolling simmer and stir occasionally. Do not forget to stir or you’ll burn the sauce.
  2.  After the 20 minutes, taste for salt. Add more if necessary.
  3.  Add in the torn basil leaves.
  4.  Add about 3 tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil and stir it in well so that it is absorbed and blended in.
  5. Cook your pasta.
  6. Mangia! Give the onion to your favorite person at the table. The softened and less harsh garlic by now will have melted in the sauce.
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