Napoli & Il Sugo – doing it old style!
Napoli is known for many culinary delights such as its exquisite pasta, mouth-watering sfogliatelle, and sumo. Perhaps there is nothing more simple than making sugo (otherwise known as a marinara sauce). And yet, its simplicity is what can transform this lovely and light pasta accompaniment into a complete and utter flop.
While it is easy to make, the key is in the freshness of the ingredients. The tomatoes have to be mature and preferably San Marzano; the carrots, sweet; the celery crunchy. And everything, absolutely everything, must be fresh. If the garlic doesn’t smell, like garlic, don’t use it.
While there are so many ways to make a sugo, this is my take on this recipe, which is still widely used in Rome. Keep one thing in mind; you are going to need a Moulin to strain the cooked vegetables.
Ingredients (for 2-3 people):
1.5 kilos of fresh, mature red tomatoes (again, preferably San Marzano)
2 – 3 sweet carrots
2 – 3 stalks of celery (remove the leafy part but don’t through it out, you can add it to a minestrone for another day)
1 medium sized red onion
1 clove of garlic
salt, to taste
bunch of fresh basil (around 10 leaves or so)
heaping tablespoon of high quality extra virgin olive oil
Slice the tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic (mince the garlic). You want them chunky, but not too big. Remember you will need to pass them through the Moulin, so if the pieces are too big it becomes harder to strain them.
Throw it all into a pot and turn the heat to medium. Once you begin to hear things sizzle, add around a cup of water, which will keep the tomatoes from sticking to the pot. Add the sugar and salt. Mix and turn
down the heat to a low heat.
Cover the pot with the lid, but place a wooden spoon between the pot and the lid, allowing steam to escape.
Leave this on for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. I usually bring my laptop into the kitchen and work as the sauce is cooking. This way I can stir the sauce often and I don’t forget it’s on the stove. This is the kind of multitasking I like!
After approximately 40 minutes, the vegetables should be a mush, more or less; this is ok! They should be so soft that a fork or knife easily goes through them. If not, let it go a little longer.
Let the sauce sit until it’s warm but not so hot you could burn yourself. Pass the sauce through the Moulin. As you’re straining it, discard the left over pieces (the coarse part of the vegetables, skins of the tomatoes, etc) that don’t get strained. Put the strained sauce back into the pot you cooked the sauce in. The sauce will be thin and this is how it should be. Even at this point it will be fragrant.
Put the pot on a low simmering heat and add in the extra virgin olive oil and basil (leave a couple of the leaves for garnish). Let this simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes, just enough time for the sauce to slightly thicken and cook off any remaining water.
And there you have it. I suggest adding it to a very high quality pasta, such as Garofalo or De Cecco. And of course you should top it off with Parmigiano Reggiano. Enjoy with a fine D.O.C. wine.