For years and years and years, my version of a tomato sauce was simple. Brown up a pound of ground beef and drain, then crack open a couple jars of whatever was on hand. To make it more fancy, I’d shake in whatever looked like it was italian in the spice rack. It tasted great, but it felt like a cheat. I wanted to make something I could call a monster tomato sauce
Eventually I decided that I wanted to do it up right. I did a lot of research into background and history and old school sauces. Then I thought about modern techniques to get an idea of what I wanted to do.
I wanted slow food cooking. I wanted an all-day recipe. And I wanted to use the dutch oven. This tomato sauce ticks all those boxes. Resist the temptation to convert this into something in the Instant Pot. I love that little science pot (and you can use it to make some amazing dishes), but the thing that makes this recipe so special is time (if you want an all-day recipe that can be made in less time with the instant pot, check out our pulled pork recipe). Time and an open lid allow for the most amazing reduction. This all day sauce is absolutely worth the time it takes to make. Once you do, you can refrigerate or freeze the extra for when you don’t have all day to make it. Be prepared for the best pasta or chicken parmesan you’ve ever had in your life!
No Added Sugar
As I read through the older and more traditional recipes, I discovered that they didn’t add sugar. It wasn’t because people didn’t like a little sweetness in the sauce, it was because the slow food approach added sweetness naturally. I liked that idea and wanted to incorporate it into my monster tomato sauce.
Timing Is Relative
Prep time is going to be around an hour to measure and chop all the things (plus brown the meat). It could a little more or less time, depending on your skills. It’s generally a 6-hour cook, but can take upwards of 8 hours if you added a lot of wine or just really want to reduce your sauce for a more intense flavor. Once you’ve done the basic prep, you don’t have to stand over the stove. There’s very little work to do, you just check on it and give the sauce a stir every 90 minutes.
- 112 ounces whole peeled DOP San Marzano tomatoes (4x 28oz cans) make sure it says DOP, it’s worth it
- 1-1½ pounds ground beef (optional, you can also probably substitute with minced/ground protein of choice and be really happy with the results) browned & drained
- 2-4 oz red wine (a few glugs) it doesn’t have to be fancy, but it shouldn’t be swill
- 8 cloves garlic minced
- 1 whole medium onion cut in half
- ½ whole carrot shredded (or wazzed up in a food processor)
- ¼ cup olive oil (plus a little more for finishing) extra virgin (even better if you’ve got a really good first pressing or finishing oil)
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1 bunch oregano leaves (just the leaves, not the entire bunch with the stems you monster!) chopped
- 1 whole large stem of fresh basil chopped
- ½ cup fresh parsley chopped
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- kosher salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- Assemble all the ingredients. This might seem silly, but going though the recipe and getting everything together before you start will keep you from getting caught in the middle of cooking something and suddenly realizing that you don’t have something you need.
- Brown and drain ground beef.
- Adjust oven rack to lower position and preheat oven to 300°F.
- Whack the butter into the dutch oven on medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the garlic and cook, stirring regularly until softened and fragrant and just starts to turn color. Add the pepper flakes and oregano and cook, stirring, for another minute or so. Remove from heat and add the ground beef.
- Get ready for a tomato party in the large bowl – this bit will be both messy and awesome. If you have a bowl that can hold all 4 cans worth with room to spare, great – if not, do them one can at a time. Open the can(s) into the bowl and crush in your hands. Squeeze and squeeze and squeeze again, until the pieces are no more than half an inch or so. Empty the bowl into the dutch oven and repeat until all the tomatoes are done.
- Optionally, if you want your sauce to have a little extra pizzazz, empty the last can’s worth of tomatoes into a sealed container after you’ve crushed them. You can put those into the refrigerator and add them at the end if you want a brighter, fresher flavor. It really is a totally optional step, as this sauce is going to be a stunner whichever way you go.
- Add the wine, fish sauce, carrot, onion halves and basil and give it all a good stir. Season it lightly with salt and pepper and bring it to a simmer over high heat.
- Put the lid onto the dutch oven, but slightly ajar, and then pop it in the oven. You’ll want to cook for 6ish hours, pulling it out to give it a gentle stir every 90 or so minutes. If it’s bubbling rapidly, turn the heat down a bit. It should reduce by a third to a half (the more it reduces, the more complex the flavor).
- Remove from the oven, and using a pair of tongs remove the onion halves. If you held some back, now is the time to add the last of the tomatoes and then bang in the basil and parsley, and then finish with a little more olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Give it one last stir, and then you can either serve it immediately or let it cool to room temperature before transferring to containers for storage and freezing.