Okay, this one’s going to be long.
(DISCLAIMER: I am not Italian, my family is not Italian, I make no claim to that. If any actual Italians care to critique these, please do so. While these may not be “authentic”, they’re just damn good.)
I find that there are three basic kinds of tomato based-sauces for pasta.
- Sauces that contain meat. These include Bolognese, Genovese and the basic, simple, yet awesome ragu.
My basic ragu takes three to five hours, takes beef short ribs (or oxtail), sausages, pork shoulder, and veal breast. Seasonings are a minimum. The emphasis is on a well-simmered, rich, meaty reduced “gravy”, which I usually serve mixed with penne, topped or sided with the meats.
In a heavy pot, brown extremely well the meats that will go in for the simmering. I usually use either beef bone-in short ribs, chuck steak or oxtail. Pork shoulder, “picnic” or butt roast is also good, but cut this off the bone. Ask your butcher nicely about veal breast, and cut it into fist-sized chunks. The sausages should be added during the last half-hour of simmering to give the sauce a freshness.
Brown them all EXTREMELY well, Carmelization adds flavor.
Once all the meats have been browned, add one or two finely minced onions, brown halfway (or until translucent), then add three or four slivered cloves of garlic. Brown these until glossy, then add approx 28 oz. of ggod quality canned tomatoes, three bay leaves, and a cup of good brown stock.Add the meats back in, and simmer until you get a good layer of orange grease forming and it tastes sweet. You can add wine or sugar if you want the taste, and add salt as the flavor progresses. Add the sausages towards the end. For service, reserve the meats, mix the gravy with pasta, coating well, and serve the meats on top or on the side. Light cheese only, as the sauce is the point here,
For simple Bolognese, add minced beef or sweet Italian sausage to a nice marinara, described below. Some people say that Bolognese traditionally includes chicken livers, and I have nothing against them in moderation. I prefer, however, to add diced sauteed chicken livers to fettucine alfredo.
- Cooked tomato sauces. The traditional marinara fits here, as does puttanesca and Amitriciana.
For marinara, you’ll need the same 28 oz of crushed good-quality tomatoes, minced onion and slivered garlic. I find that crushing gives the garlic a funky texture and doesn’t get as sweet. Once you’ve browned the onions and garlic, add the tomatoes (no broth in this one) and wine if you wish. Spices are basil and oregano, fresh for preference, but dried are fine, just use a little more and crush them finely. I generally use about a tablespoon apiece for a batch, and a bay leaf or two for ggod measure. Salt to taste, but a true marinara will contain anchovies, hence the name. I usually crush mine up and add them after the first half-hour. Salt to taste, but I generally don’t add black pepper. Sometimes a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, but that’s about it.
If you want it smoother, you can take an immersion mixer to it or put it in a blender. I generally will add brown sugar (about a tablespoon) for body, but you want some acidity.
For puttanesca, either combine a basic marinara or crushed tomatoes with anchovy filets, caper berries and slivered oil-cured black olives .
For Amitriciana, again, either basic marinara or crushed tomatoes with bacon or pancetta, extra garlic and a healthy shake of red pepper.
3.) Uncooked tomato sauces. Simple, basic, summery. These generally are for light pasta and the tomato is either raw or barely cooked. For basilico e pomodoro, take good raw plum tomatoes, dice them, set aside. Saute garlic and olive oil together, toss the tomatoes, add chiffonaded basil. Mix with angel-hair or spaghetti.