Make Ahead

When Tyler Met Marcella: a Love Story in the Form of Tomato Sauce (and a bonus recipe for "Tomato Tonnato")

September 19, 2022
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Photo by Chris Hagan
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • makes about 3 cups
Author Notes

This recipe is a mashup of Marcella Hazan's classic tomato sauce with butter and onion and Tyler Kord's "Tomato Pepperoni" from the Shortstack Cookbook. It works equally well with fresh and canned tomatoes, but during the height of summer I prefer to make it with little sungold tomatoes from the garden. It has an astonishing depth of flavor, and the aroma as it simmers is magical. It evokes baked ziti for me, so that is one way I use it. I've also made "mezze rigatoni" out of little zucchini (trim both ends of the squash, run the tines of a fork lengthwise the whole way around, then peel; cut into mezze-rigatoni-sized pieces and run an apple corer through them (save the squash detritus for zucchini bread). Salt and drain, then refrigerate overnight in a container lined with several layers of paper towels. The texture will be such that you don't need to cook them; just toss in the warm tomato sauce and heat through. Serve over the freshest fresh ricotta and sprinkle with freshly grated parm. But I digress....) The recipe for the spice mix makes more than you need for the recipe to begin with, but I implore you to make a double batch, as it is good in lots of other things--try subbing it in for the fennel seed in this recipe: . —Chris Hagan

What You'll Need
  • For the tomato sauce:
  • 20-24 ounces small fresh tomatoes, such as sungold
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, microplaned
  • 1 tablespoon ponzu or soy sauce
  • 1.5 teaspoons maple syrup (sweet soy sauce--the kind in pad se ew--also works here)
  • 4 teaspoons spice mix (see below)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • a few healthy sprigs fresh thyme
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons wine vinegar (I prefer white but red works just fine, too)
  • For the spice mix:
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Morton kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  1. Make the spice mix: Combine the ingredients in a spice mill or dedicated coffee grinder. (Or do it by hand with a mortar and pestle.) This makes more than you need for this recipe, but it is good with lots of other things, like pork chops.
  2. Make the tomato sauce: Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, ponzu, maple syrup, and spice mix in a saute or sauce pan. Wreathe with thyme sprigs and dot with butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle some olive oil over everything. Simmer over a low flame, partially covered, for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and pluck out and discard the thyme sprigs. (Alternatively, set them aside until cooled a little, and suck the delicious bits of tomato sauce clinging to them off, a little cook's treat.)
  3. Puree the tomato sauce directly in the pan using an immersion blender. Blend in wine vinegar to taste, adding up to an additional teaspoon.
  4. To make "Tomato Tonnato": Blend 1 cup tomato sauce, 1 can or jar of tuna in olive oil (something in the ~5 to 7.6 oz range, drained), 1 tbsp colatura di alici (a kind of Italian fish sauce), and 1 1/2 tsp ground nigella seeds until smooth. It's great as a dip and absolutely dynamite mixed into some broccoli rabe that's been braised in olive oil with garlic, anchovies, chilies, capers, and lemon zest. Spread the broccoli-tomato tonnato mixture on toast, dot with mozzarella and whole nigella seeds, and broil until the cheese starts to brown for little tuna melt appetizers.

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