I seem to lack the ability to grow tomatoes. I blame it on our yard. The front yard only gets the hottest, harshest sun of the day, and the back yard is too shaded. I have a few cherry tomato plants, but they’re only doing ok. They're certainly not producing record numbers of cherry tomatoes. I’ve accepted that I need to leave serious tomato growing to the pros. One of our local pros is Johnson’s Backyard Garden, and they’ve had an incredible tomato harvest this year. In fact, they have a bulk tomato sale that’s still in effect, and that’s how I came to have ten pounds of San Marzano’s. I set aside a few of them for oven roasting, and the rest were plunged into boiling water, skinned, and then seeded. By the end of the ten pounds, and really ten pounds isn’t even that much, it seemed like a lot of work, but when I tasted the tomatoes it was completely worth it. My first thought of how to use some of these tomatoes was that classic sauce I’ve heard so much about from Marcella Hazan. In Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, she included what she calls “the simplest of all sauces to make.” She also mentions “none has a purer, more irresistibly sweet tomato taste.” She’s right about that. I tasted the sauce so many times as it cooked I risked not having any left to serve with pasta. This is her famous tomato sauce with onion and butter. There are exactly three ingredients plus salt and pepper, and it is a perfect sauce.
Obviously, the better the tomatoes, the better the sauce, and I was starting with those fabulous, fresh San Marzanos. As I said, I had peeled and seeded the tomatoes, and then I roughly chopped them. Two pounds were needed for one recipe of this sauce. The tomatoes went into a sauce pan with one onion that had been peeled and cut in half. Five tablespoons of butter was added, and then the sauce cooked. Occasional stirring helped break down the tomatoes, the liquid reduced, the sauce thickened, the butter melted, the onion added its flavor, and the simplest, most delicious sauce came to be. The onion was removed and seasoning was adjusted before the sauce was used. Marcella recommends this sauce for gnocchi or penne or rigatoni. I chose rigatoni which was boiled and then tossed with the sauce. On the plate, I added shards of parmigiano reggiano and ribbons of basil.
This sauce could be made with canned tomatoes, but the flavor of fresh tomatoes is so much better. The butter makes them even sweeter, and the onion rounds out the savoriness. I found it impossible to not taste the sauce each time I stopped by the pan to stir it, and once tossed with pasta, the bright, freshness of it was unbelievable. And, the very good news is that I have more of those peeled and seeded tomatoes sitting in my freezer just waiting to be turned into sauce.