I did not REALLY know how to make a great marinara sauce until Lucia LoPresti taught me how. The key: Lucia’s trick of sauteing the onions in a liberal amount of olive oil, which makes for an mellow, curiously velvety tomato sauce. It is a perfect sauce for pasta and a fine base for many dishes, from stuffed peppers to stews. It is essential to her La Melanzana in Padedda (Eggplant Slow Cooked ‘in the Pan).
Lucia makes her tomato sauce with dead-ripe summer tomatoes she and her family can every August and September for use during the year (and gifts for lucky friends). Her recipe works fine with good quality canned tomatoes from the supermarket.
Recipe: Mamma Lucia’s Tomato Sauce
Makes about 2 ½ cups with crushed tomatoes, 1 3/4 to 2 cups with whole peeled plum tomatoes
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about ¾ cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes or drained whole peeled plum tomatoes,
¼ to1/2 teaspoon sugar
Pour the olive oil into a large skillet and stir in the onion. Over medium-low heat, sauté the onion until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until it just starts to color. Add the chili pepper flakes if desired (they will add just a hint of appetizing heat), stirring them into the oil to release their flavor.
Add the tomatoes. (If using whole tomatoes, break them up with the edge of a kitchen spoon.) Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the flame down to medium; simmer until the oil rises to the top and separates from the sauce, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the sugar to taste to balance the flavors.