It used to be true that there was no red sauce better than your Grandma’s marinara–ok, it still is mostly true. That doesn’t mean there aren’t excellent canned and jarred sauces on the market today that will please your palate and leave your guests none the wiser . Several of them are on the shelves here at Fernanda’s along with (if we do say so ourselves) the tasty prepared sauces from our Chef Peter.
However, if you’re taking on the task of making a red sauce from scratch, we better start from the beginning: the tomato.
Florida and California are the states with the largest yield of tomato crops, no doubt due to the agreeable weather we are lucky enough to enjoy. But tomatoes are really a summer fruit (yes, a fruit!) and taste the best when harvested sometime between June and September.
This means that we spend most of the year eating and cooking with sub-par tomatoes. I’m sure you’re familiar with the experience of biting into a slimy, flavorless semi-green “tomato” outside of prime season.
This leaves us with a few options for getting high quality, full-flavor tomatoes into our sauce. This is where I admit that there is something romantic about taking fresh tomatoes, chopping them on the cutting board and watching them break down in the pan with olive oil, garlic, carrots, and celery–but this is also where I admit that there is nothing wrong with canned tomatoes.
Canned tomatoes are often picked at the height of season and preserved when they are at their very best. That means your sauce has every advantage of a sauce made with ripe summer tomatoes. We carry DOP San Marzano tomatoes in the market because that’s what I personally like to use.
At the end of the day, even if you have a tomato picked at peak timing, grown in soil with the perfect pH, that tomato might not be sweet enough to make the sauce as tasty as it could be. Red sauces depend on a few things to be great, and one of those things is the inherent sweetness of the tomato
If that sweetness isn’t there it may be because the sugars aren’t present in that particular piece of fruit, you may have an out-of-season piece of fruit, or the sugars may break down from the heating process during cooking. This is when I turn to sugar, cane sugar.
This is a somewhat hotly debated topic. Marinara fundamentalists might disagree with this advice, but the results cannot be argued. In a world where perfect tomatoes are not always accessible, sometimes, just a spoonful of sugar helps the red sauce come together.