I have Marcella Hazan to thank for the inspiration for this sauce. And a previous job that drove me crazy, which inadvertently introduced me to her. I worked for a branch of the publisher that published her books, and every Xmas we would get a £25 voucher to spend on a book published by them. I went to the food section (which I sadly did not work for), and spied Marcella’s book and ordered that.
I learned so much about Italian cooking from her, her recipes are very precise, authentic, and work brilliantly. Her recipes sometimes have stories woven in too, and she is charming to read. One of her most simple recipes, her tomato sauce, is something that I cook all the time at home still today. I also learned the rite of passage that is proper carbonara from her book. If you don’t have her book, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, you should buy it right away.
I am not alone. When Marcella recently passed away, many newspapers and blogs featured the tomato sauce recipe. The beauty of it is its simplicity and the use of great ingredients, which was Marcella’s hallmark. She never compromised. For this sauce, she used 2 x 400g tins of San Marzano tomatoes (protected by a DOP and more expensive, but so worth it) which she cooked with 5 tablespoons of butter and one onion (which was peeled, halved, and discarded after 45 minutes cooking, or when the butter separated from the tomatoes). It is a perfect sauce and so simple.
I use a lot of tomatoes in my everyday cooking. A tin of tomatoes can become so many things, and very quickly too. Yesterday, I had some fresh tomatoes, small fruity ones, that were on their way to becoming rotten if I didn’t use them very soon. Fresh tomatoes are great for a sauce but the skins and seeds can be a problem for texture and just plain getting stuck in your teeth. With larger tomatoes this can be resolved by peeling and deseeding, but doing this with tiny plum tomatoes would be akin to peeling grapes.
So, I stick them in my blender and blitz them, so that the skins are tiny near-invisible shreds and no longer a problem. The resulting tomato puree has a wonderful rich fruity flavour and is great for a sauce. You could pass it through a mouli at this point to get rid of the shrapnel, but I was hungry so I didn’t bother. And it didn’t really need it either.
I cooked the tomatoes with garlic, hot cooking chorizo and butter, for 45 minutes as Marcella does, and the result is a perfect Autumn sauce. Fruity and fresh from the tomato, the chorizo provides a perfect base note beneath it and the butter adds richness but it is still subtle. The whole thing jumps off the plate with intensity of flavour.
I used a soft hot cooking chorizo from Brindisa, a fridge staple for me since I first discovered it some years ago. In London, it is available from their shop and lots of delis, it is also available online. If you can’t get soft chorizo, don’t worry. Just use good dried chorizo. Use whichever pasta you like, I used a big shape that I had to hand, and that would house the chunks of chorizo perfectly, but linguine or spaghetti would be great too.
RECIPE: Pasta with Chorizo, Tomato & Butter Sauce
200g pasta of your choice (see above)
200g cooking chorizo, chopped into small chunks (or dried if you can’t get it)
a small pinch of chilli flakes, only if you can’t get hot (piccante) chorizo
300g small fruity tomatoes, blitzed into a puree with a blender
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
Sauté the chorizo for a few minutes, no oil is required for cooking chorizo as it will quickly release its own. Add the garlic for 20 seconds, then add the tomatoes and butter. Cook for 45 minutes over a gentle – medium heat, or until the butter separates from the sauce. Add water if the sauce gets too thick, as you don’t want it to stick and burn. Just a little at a time, don’t drown it.
Cook the pasta in salted water according to packet instructions in the last 10 – 15 minutes of cooking (depending on how much time you need).
Add the drained pasta to the sauce, reserving some pasta water to thin out the sauce if you need it (you may not – you be the judge). The chorizo is quite salty so you shouldn’t need to season it, but taste to test.
Eat immediately and enjoy!