I like my friend Knox for lots of reasons, one of which is that everything he cooks (and bakes, and preserves) is divine and he always shares his recipes. He always has good ideas, and several projects up his sleeve at once, so you won’t be surprised to learn that among his many accomplishments, Knox is the granddaddy of Soup Swap. (What, you haven’t held a soup swap yet this year? It’s not too late! The rules are here.)
And I think it was at Knox’s first soup swap, more than a decade ago, that he made us The Best Tomato Sauce for the first time. There were lots of us, and lots of frozen soup, packed into Knox’s tiny house, and in characteristic fashion he breezily served steaming bowls of pasta to all of us crowded onto the couch and floor and standing in every corner and doorway. The sauce was incredible. I squeezed after him into the arms-width kitchen and wrote down his instructions on a now-battered-and-stained recipe card.I think of this as a winter recipe because it calls for always-in-season canned tomatoes (and probably because of my first encounter with it all those Januarys ago). It’s hearty and meaty with tomato chunks and cooked for hours until the flavors and texture are deeply concentrated. This is the tomato sauce I was dreaming of when I said that Marcella Hazan’s doesn’t do it for me. This one is The Best.
The Best Tomato Sauce: Heat 1/4. c. olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot. Add 6-8 peeled cloves of garlic and a couple of dried chiles and simmer them in the oil, stirring often, until they are well browned. Fish everything out of the oil, discarding the chiles and setting the garlic aside. Carefully (the pot will spatter!) add 2 big cans or jars of chopped tomatoes* to the oil and stir well. Chop the reserved browned garlic and return it to the pot. Add a bay leaf, a pinch of salt, a spoonful of sugar (I used my orange peel sugar, of course), and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Cook at a good simmer for a long time, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Maybe two hours. When the sauce is wonderfully thick, discard the bay leaf and adjust the flavors to taste with additional salt, sugar, and/or a few more drops of vinegar. You can add a big handful of chopped fresh parsley or basil (or both!) at the end if you like, but this time I didn’t and that was good too.
*I like Muir Glen in now-BPA-free cans and jarred Jovial tomatoes. For this recipe I used half chopped tomatoes and half whole tomatoes, which I cut into rough chunks in the pot with kitchen shears.