Creating an authentic and flavorful Italian tomato-based sauce from scratch is an easy process if you follow three key steps, says Gregory Schweizer, director of culinary development for Olive Garden. The secret to any sauce — including tomato — is as simple as layering the ingredients in a precise order.
Master this technique and you’ve taken a giant leap toward mastering Italian taste!
The first layer is the Battuto, the rich base of flavor every Italian chef starts with when preparing a sauce. Preheat olive oil and add base ingredients of chopped celery, onions and carrots. If desired, a small amount of meat such as pancetta, a lightly-seasoned Italian bacon, can be added to the Battuto just for seasoning. If used, little or no oil is needed because of the meat’s natural fat content. Sauté until steam dissipates. Add garlic and parsley last in order to maintain their flavor.
Soffritto is the next layer of the sauce, when the onion becomes translucent and the garlic turns a pale, golden color. At this point, add meat if desired, such as ground beef, and cook until steam dissipates.
Next, add wine to help balance the flavors. Schweizer recommends a red wine or a heavy chardonnay, and, to enhance the dining experience, cook with the same type of wine you plan to serve with the meal. Briefly cook the wine in the soffritto on a medium heat to completely evaporate the alcohol.
Insaporire, which means to give flavor, is the final layer, when pureed tomatoes or paste, herbs (except delicate herbs such as basil) and vegetables, such as mushrooms, bell peppers and olives, are added to the pan. Sauté until all the ingredients have been coated with the flavors of the onion and garlic. Sugar (or a high-quality Balsamic vinegar), salt, pepper and additional garlic can be added here to taste. Note: The flavor of salt intensifies as the sauce cooks because the water content is reducing. Add salt conservatively and taste frequently to avoid over-salting.
A good marinara sauce should simmer for 30 minutes to one hour. A sauce with meat should simmer for two to four hours. To complete your sauce, add basil and other delicate herbs during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Garnish with fresh, chopped parsley before serving.