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Feb 22, 2009 09:05 AM

What are tricks to the perfect spaghetti sauce?

What are some great recipes for homemade spaghetti sauce or some tricks that you think are key to getting it right? I have tried making it from canned tomato sauce/crushed tomatoes, etc but it never has that perfect flavor I'm looking for. Any suggestions?

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  1. What is that "perfect" flavor you are looking for?

    I like to reduce canned tomatoes. I just keep cooking them down until almost a paste.
    Then I add a bit of olive oil & fry the tomatoes.

    I go from there with different variations, depending what I am in the mood for that day.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Isabella

      Let me add when I am frying the tomatoes I am stirring almost constantly.
      This is basically making your own tomato paste from whole tomatoes.

      Season as you will for whatever mood you are in!

      1. re: Isabella

        the first step in making a good spegheti sauce is to burn the tomato sauce a little in a good olive oil..... after a few tries you will develop the perfect taste. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP!!! for the perfect spegheti sauce !!!!

      2. Having gotten flamed by a couple of posters in the Giorgio Armani thread for a light-hearted crack, I'll step carefully here.

        For cooked sauces I have two things - add in some almost browned tomato paste (possibly the same princple at work as what Isabella describes) and, more obviously, cook whatever your sauce is long and slow.

        For uncooked summer sauces, needed are great ripe tomatoes, good olive oil, good black pepper and garlic, and the freshest of things like mint or basil.

        1. The only "trick" is to use the best ingredients you can lay hands on and not too many of them at once.

          7 Replies
          1. re: mbfant

            +1. Seriously, simple is best, quality tomatoes (I use canned San Marzano DOP), olive oil, garlic, salt, oregano, nothing else. Simmer...

            1. re: virtualguthrie

              This is a frequent post that always makes me wonder. As virtual has stated, this has to be the simplest recipe in the world to get right. I would start with sauteed shallots and maybe add some red pepper flakes, but otherwise the recipe above, if seasoned properly, will make a killer sauce.

              1. re: bnemes3343

                And, of course, for me anyway plenty of grated cheese at the end. What I love about the basic here is the ingredients are always on hand. Nothing to buy or defrost. And the pure flavors of the few ingredients shine.

                1. re: bnemes3343

                  I guess it's just so simple that people can't believe it and always end up adding a bunch of stuff that just distracts from the point (the tomatoes are the point after all). Now obviously there are a million variations of tomato sauce and many traditional recipes do call for things like onions and carrots and then there are meat sauces and the like.

                  It just always amazes me when people make pasta sauce with meat and vegetables and onions and everything else and it's just a big mess. These are the same people who ask me what I do to make my sauce so good. My response is always... nothing, absolutely nothing. Let the ingredients shine through, that is all.

                  1. re: virtualguthrie

                    My favorite really is Hazan's tomato butter sauce - I used one can of San Marzano tomatoes (I dice them if I feel like it, or cut them up with a wooden spoon as they cook if I don't), 6 T butter, and one large yellow onion, cut in half. Simmer for about 45 minutes at as low a temp as possible. Sometimes I'll toss with pasta, basil and parmesan, sometimes I add diced mozzarella - it's particularly good with smoked mozzarella.

                    As an aside, my grandfather, who lived his whole life in a v. small SW PA town, made a fabulous but completely unauthentic "spaghetti sauce" - ground beef, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, tomato paste - not sure what else at this point. This is what I grew up thinking of as "spaghetti sauce", and which I used to make a lot in college. Only when I moved to NYC, and a friend gave me Hazan's book, did I begin to understand more about what Italian cooking is about.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      Oh my, these are the exact ingredients that I got from my mother-in-law, a native of Italy who is no longer able tell me how to make it. All I know is everything was ground down so finely that you couldn't even tell there was tomato in the sauce. But, delicious? Oh yes!! Do you know how your grandfather made his sauce? Would love to be able to make it.

                2. re: virtualguthrie

                  Agree, I add some wine, but that is another blog. Just my preference, but a lot don't agree. Just my taste is all. I also like 1 very fine diced shallot. Again, just taste

              2. Here are a couple of tricks I picked up over the years.

                First, if the sauce is too acidic many people add sugar but a trick I learned is to add about a tablespoon of baking soda. It neutralizes the acid without making the sauce too sweet.

                Second, run the tomatoes through a food mill to remove the skin, seeds and pulp. It’ll make the sauce extra smooth.

                6 Replies
                1. re: TomDel

                  I just tried the baking soda - only a half-tsp to 3 quarts of sauce. The tomato element was 3 oz of paste plus two 28-oz cans of crushed. Sorry I did; it certainly neutralized the acid, but completely dulled the tomato flavor. I added another 3 oz of tomato paste and am hoping this will restore some taste. Live and learn...

                  1. re: greygarious

                    we always added a carrot to the pot to absorb the acid. I'm not sure that there is any scientific validity but that's what Grandma taught us....

                    1. re: chicaraleigh

                      Batali's basic tomata sauce has half a grated carrot. It's a great sauce without even adding anything to it. Almost need some meat to *cut* the richness. And just canned tomatoes.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        To each his own --- I routinely include grated carrot in spaghetti sauce but we all have different palates. According to the "sweet&low test" I am an under-taster, which means things need to be sweeter than normal in order to taste sweet to me. And the concept of meat as cutting richness runs counter to my experience. Fortunately, adding more tomato paste corrected the "baking soda blahs" in today's sauce and the lasagna turned out well.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          What I meant is that the basic sauce is an incredibly rich tomato flavor, almost needs something to dilute the intensity of the flavor. I was almost tongue in cheek when I suggested meat to cut it :) But one time I did use the basic sauce over some stuffed jumbo shells and the stuffing was quite rich itself. The sauce practically obscured the other flavors.

                        2. re: c oliver

                          not grated carrot for us - for us it's a whole carrot that you pull out at the end of the cooking process

                          my family recipe sauce is quite plain - olive oil, garlic, browned tomato paste, wine to deglaze after browning the tomato paste, add crushed tomatoes or whole - what ever you have on hand. Simmer low and slow for several hours with 1 whole carrot in the pot. About 20 - 30 minutes before eating, add some fresh basil, remove the carrot. Stir in freshly grated parm or lucatelli at the end.

                  2. Fresh is, IMO, the most important word in preparing a spaghetti sauce. Fresh ingredients are always better than packaged. That said, I do sometimes use canned tomato paste. But it's not the variety with a bunch of ingredients added by the manufacturer; just pure nothing added tomato paste. I usually prepare my spaghetti sauce with a stock base. Chicken stock is what I normally use. But veal stock or sometimes a shell fish stock works pretty well. A plain water base, nothing else added, produces a weaker flavored sauce that falls a bit short of my expectations of a flavorful sauce. Fresh tomatoes (I like the food mill recommendation) with freshly chopped herbs of your choice and a good quality wine. Taste, taste, taste .... but wait for about ten minutes after adding an ingredient before tasting so you get a better sense of how your adjustment worked. Also remember that the sauce is going to be used with a rather bland pasta so it's flavor has to be hearty enough to hold up.
                    I also agree with the idea of "toasting" the tomato paste in the pan, if just a little a bit - just don't burn it.