For a photo of the result, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fleur_d_elise/9355034/in/set-447048/
1 medium-to-large white onion
Up to 1 head garlic (to taste)
5 long stalks celery
1 large can, tomato purée
2 tubes, tomato paste
1 large can, diced tomatoes
several chopped fresh tomatoes
Olive oil, to taste
Red wine (preferably merlot or chianti), to taste
Balsamic vinegar, to taste
Sea salt or kosher salt, approximately 1.5 tsp (or to taste)
Fresh oregano, to taste
Fresh parsley, to taste
Fresh basil, to taste
Crushed red pepper, to taste
One block of parmigiano reggiano cheese
This is a great recipe for entertaining. It's simple to prepare, and doesn't require constant attention, so I don't have to abandon my guests (most often, my best friend, whose favourite recipe this is). It goes well with straight pasta, such as spaghetti, spaghettoni or bucatini, but the chunky tomatoes make it a good match for pastas such as conchiglie, penne, and fusilli.
STEP ONE: PREPARATION
Finely chop the onion and garlic (a food processor works well, and is much less of a pain than hand chopping), and dice the celery (the celery may also be chopped as finely as the onions, in which case it would be added in Step 3). Avoid using a garlic press, as this creates a homogeneous pulp that does not blend into the sauce mixture the way well-chopped garlic will. Dice fresh tomatoes, if any. Finely chop the oregano, basil, and parsley. The parsley and oregano may be chopped together, but the basil should be kept separate, as it will be added later on in the process.
NOTE: Only use fresh basil. Dried basil leaves or flakes have a harsher, overly sweet taste that lacks the subtlety of fresh basil leaves (and totally wrecks the sauce)!
STEP TWO: SOFFRITTO
Soffritto is the first, and fundamental step of making any Italian sauce. It softens the onions, and mellows their flavour so that it does not overwhelm the other ingredients. It's important not to rush it. First, bring the olive oil in either a wok or a stockpot to a simmer. Then, add only the chopped onions, stirring them in order to distribute them evenly throughout the olive oil. Stirring periodically, allow them to soften and take on a light golden-brown colour. This should take between 10 and 15 minutes.
STEP THREE: INSAPORIMENTO
Insaporire is Italian for "to infuse with flavour (sapore)." In this step, the other flavouring ingredients in particular, the garlic are added to the soffritto. Because garlic cooks more quickly than onions, this step requires a bit more attention than the previous one. Add the chopped garlic to the onions, stirring them thoroughly, as well as a small amount of the balsamic vinegar, wine, salt, and crushed red pepper. Stir this periodically for approximately 5 minutes before proceeding to the next step.
Once the mixture is ready, begin adding the diced celery and tomatoes, stirring as you go. Allow the mixture to cook together for five minutes before adding the tomato paste (together with generous additions of water, to liquefy the paste) and purée. Also add the parsley and oregano at this time. More olive oil may be necessary to cover the mixture fully. Periodically sample the mixture, and add balsamic vinegar, wine, crushed red pepper, oregano, and parsley to taste. Continue stirring periodically, in order to prevent the sauce burning onto the bottom of the pot.
Once the sauce has been simmering for a while, you may want to add the grated parmigiano reggiano (though this can also wait until serving). If you do, be sure to stir it thoroughly, making sure to maintain a mostly uniform colour. At this point, add the chopped basil, and stir it in. Turn the burner down to LOW, and allow the mixture to simmer while the pasta cooks.
1 can of tomato purée and 2 of diced tomatoes serves 2-3. For larger parties, just add more purée and diced tomatoes, increasing the wine, vinegar, garlic, oregano, basil, parsley, and olive oil proportionately (to taste).
Other items in Élise's Culinodes
Quick vegetarian pasta sauce --=-- Bruschetta --=-- Arrabbiata