I grew up with classic Italian red sauce, often from a jar. As I learned more about Italian food, I took more care but it never dawned on me that there was another valid way with tomato sauce. Of course, the hubris of youth had something to do with that but I tend to fall in love and that’s that.
A typical Mexican tomato sauce is much different. All of the ingredients are put in the blender and then “fried” in oil or fat. It’s very different but it’s easy and delicious. I use this sauce a lot, especially for breakfast but often for cooked beans. I like to thin the sauce with stock and then add cooked scrambled eggs. If you were inspired to make a chile relleno, a pool of this tomato goodness would be 100% appropriate. A cup of this sauce would be a wonderful way to welcome back a cup of cooked Flageolet.
For me, beyond the technique, the secret is the canela. A stick in the sauce while it’s cooking releases a warm, earthy flavor. I must warn you that you can’t replicate this by a spoonful of powdered commodity cinnamon. You really need a canela stick. I sometimes will briefly roast it on a hot comal (or pan) and it adds more dimension to the already rich flavor.
In a rush, you can skip the roasting and just add the onions, garlic and canela, but try it both ways and see if it isn’t better. I normally add a fresh green Serrano chile as well but the first time you make it, try this simple version.
Recipe: Steve’s Nearly Magic Tomato Sauce
3 white (or yellow) onion slices with the skins on
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 stick Rancho Gordo canela (true cinnamon)
1 teaspoon Rancho Gordo Oregano Indio
3 or 4 whole peeled tomatoes, canned, and about 1/4 cup of their juice
Chicken or vegetable stock, if needed
2 tablespoons olive oil or manteca (lard)
Salt to taste
Roast the onion slices and garlic until soft, over medium heat, for about 10 minutes, using a comal or cast iron skillet. Remove from heat and allow to cool to the touch. Roast the canela stick, turning often, for about 2 minutes. The stick should give off its aroma.
Peel the onions and garlic skins.
In a blender, add the tomatoes, tomato juice, Oregano Indio, onion and garlic. Add a little chicken or vegetable stock if the blades get stuck. Blend until smooth.
In a large pan, heat olive oil or manteca (lard) over medium heat and then “fry” the tomato mixture with the canela, stirring constantly. Raise heat to medium-high for a gentle simmer and keep stirring until the mixture is a thick sauce, about 15 minutues. Season with salt. Remove the canela stick.
Use as is or thin with more stock.