Strange things happen in my kitchen. Countless recipes wait in an imaginary line, that most will stay in for years, until I finally get around to making them. But occasionally a recipe casts a spell on me, forcing a menu change, a search for exotic ingredients, the abandonment of seasonal cooking, and my personal resolve to drop everything else and cook it right away, as soon as humanly possible. I bring this up because it happened last weekend, when the Barefoot Contessa’s guest chef, Joseph Realmuto, shared the recipe for his restaurant’s favorite tomato sauce (for the past 22 years). It involved vodka, slow roasted tomatoes and onions, and was finished with heavy cream. I stopped in my tracks, slowly turned, headed to the kitchen, and made it. And that, my friends, was the right move… ;-)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 T dried red pepper flakes
1 T dried oregano
1/2 cup vodka
1 can best quality whole tomatoes (28 ounces)
salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
fresh herbs of your choice (oregano, basil)
parmiggiano reggiano cheese, grated
Heat the oven to 375 F.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet, add the onions, cook for about 8 minutes over medium heat, add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano, and saute for a couple of minutes, mixing constantly. Add the vodka and simmer until the mixture is slightly reduced. Drain the tomatoes and add them to the skillet, crushing them slightly with your hands or a large wooden spoon (careful, they will splatter!). Season lightly with salt. Cover the skillet and place in the oven for one and a half hours. Remove the skillet from the oven, let it cool for 15 minutes, then place the contents in a blender. Puree until smooth.
While you cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water, finish the sauce back in the skillet, setting over medium heat, and adding heavy cream. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 5 minutes, add the cooked pasta, and allow them to gently simmer for a few more minutes. Add fresh herbs and parmiggiano cheese right before serving.
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Comments: In this day and age it’s hard to believe I’d even bother with another recipe for tomato sauce. I usually alternate between my two favorites: the first involves a quick saute of onions in olive oil, a can of tomatoes, salt, pepper and some herbs; the second is a very popular recipe from Marcella Hazan, worth all the butter it calls for. ;-)
With the addition of this recipe I have my own tomato trilogy. It’s a breeze to prepare, but the combination of vodka and slow roasted tomatoes makes it taste complex. I reduced the cream because 1 full cup of heavy cream seemed excessive; feel free to do as your heart (and palate) desires. The vodka provides a background of heat that’s perfect with the intense flavor of tomatoes, concentrated by roasting. It’s a delicious sauce that may be prepared in advance and blended right before finishing.