Adapted from Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion, this dish reminds me of countless late night plates of Japanese spaghetti with ketchup at Sake Bar Hagi, a basement izakaya on 49th Street a half block but half a world away from Times Square. Hazan's recipe remains mostly intact, but I add bacon, green bell pepper, and, as was admitted to me by a former Hagi cook eating next to me at the counter the weekend that the beloved restaurant closed in January 2018, when I begged him for the recipe—"it's Japanese, Kate, so"—soy sauce. —Kate Malay
ripe red tomatoes
small onion, about 150 grams or one-third pound, cut into one inch pieces, one half reserved
small green bell pepper or one half large bell pepper, cored and deseeded, cut into one inch pieces
clove garlic, finely chopped
squirt of ketchup, to honor the dish's origins
good Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
In This Recipe
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and set out a large saucepan for your tomato sauce. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil, place two slices of bacon on it, and roast in the oven past soggy but long before crispy, at least five minutes. (Cooking time will vary depending on the bacon's thickness.) Carefully pour the liquid bacon fat from one corner of the sheet pan into the saucepan; the fat will be extremely hot. Cut or tear the bacon into large pieces and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in another saucepan, and prepare ice water in a medium to large bowl. Boil tomatoes for one minute, then transfer to ice bath. Once cool enough to handle, use your fingers to peel away and discard the tomato skins. Remove the tough stem centers from the tomatoes and cut into large chunks.
Add the tomatoes, half of the onions, and 2 tablespoons of the unsalted butter to the saucepan with the bacon fat. Bring to a simmer for 45 minutes, monitoring the temperature and pressing the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon throughout the first ten minutes, then every ten or so minutes after that.
In a separate frying pan at medium heat, sauté the green pepper, reserved onion, and garlic with the remaining one tablespoon of butter until softened. Set aside.
After the tomato sauce has simmered for 45 minutes, add the sugar and soy sauce in small increments, stir, and taste after each addition. Some tomatoes are sweet, some palates are sensitive to salt, so it is important that you season until you say "mmm" aloud to yourself. At this point, the sauce can be refrigerated and reserved until later.
Once the tomato sauce is to your liking, add the peppers, onions, garlic, and bacon, and continue to simmer on low. Adjust seasoning as needed. It should be a little salty.
Boil water in a large pot, do not salt, and cook dry spaghetti to al dente, reserving a quarter cup of the cooking water at the end. Drain the pasta, do not rinse, and immediately return it and its cooking water to its pot. Pour tomato sauce over it, stir well, and allow to cook until spaghetti is soft. Add a little squirt of ketchup for fun.
Finish with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, but the green canister of dried "parm" will work just as well.