The Promised Tomato Sauce from Italy: Yum!


Tomatoes from my garden last year—still waiting for the 2013 crop to produce

Finally, as I promised, here is the tomato sauce recipe from my time in Porto Ercole. You may remember that Roberto was the wonderful cook who was hired  (by my friend Mita Corsini Bland)  to prepare lunch for us each day while we were painting. As I raved in that post, the simplicity of his food coupled with the quality of the ingredients made every meal a treat for the taste buds. Once back in the States, I tried the recipe at home: very nice,  but it did not touch his cooking.  We all debated about the ingredients, the difference in pasta (although I used the same packaged brand as he), the difference in water . . .  I think ultimately it boils down  to the chef and the quality of the  fresh ingredients.   That said, it was quite tasty and I will certainly fix it this summer if and when my tomatoes ripen. We have had such weather in Connecticut!  A cold June, then two horrible weeks of hot, hot temperatures and humidity, and now we are  in drought mode.

When I made the sauce I used grape tomatoes and some larger vine-ripened medium sized ones from the store.  I think they are the tastiest options available outside of the real local tomato season .

An Italian chef once explained to me there are two types of tomato sauces: the one you cook no longer than 15 minutes and the one that you cook for three hours. Anything in between would be too bitter and acidic. Roberto’s was the former; he literally cooked it about 15 minutes.


The luncheon table in Porto Ercole. Roberto surrounded the platter with some sauteed zucchini with chopped parsley sprinkled on top. The next time (we begged for it again) he topped it with chopped basil and a basil leaf for decoration. Served with a crisp white Italian wine from the region, we needed nothing more –except maybe a nap!

Like so many good cooks he measured nothing, so the following is from my notes as I watched him. I would say this serves 4 people.  The Italians do not drown their pasta, but use sauce as a condimento, tossing to create the evenly-distributed light coating  you can see in the photo above.

1. To peel the tomatoes:  fill a large sauce pan with heavily-salted water and bring to a boil.  Place a handful of slightly larger tomatoes in the boiling water; after 2 minutes dump the two boxes of grape or cherry tomatoes into water.  In a couple of minutes  more, when see the skin of the tomatoes  start to crack,  take the pan off the heat and remove the tomatoes with a strainer.  After they are cool (you can plunge them briefly into an ice water bath to hasten this) remove the skin. Next, cut them all in half and squeeze to remove the seeds.  Yes, I know it is a pain, but Roberto insists it must be done in order to have a sweet sauce (Sometime soon I will try peeling of the tomatoes and  merely chopping them, throwing seeds and all into the pan.)  Caution and confession: it is hard to get all of the seeds out of the small tomatoes because it removes so much good pulp, so I did leave a few seeds rather than decimate the tomato. Now that many of us are entering tomato season we can just peel, seed, and cut a mix of large tomatoes into pieces  —  much easier then seeding the small ones!

2. Heat olive oil in a frying pan.  (Remember no measurements! I started with 1/4 cup).

3. When oil is hot but not smoking, add one clove of garlic, some red pepper flakes (1/4 tsp or to taste),  two anchovy filets (this is important — they seem to put anchovy in about everything);  toss in tomatoes and additional salt to taste and give it all a stir.

4. Cook for 15 minutes and then take off the heat.

5. At the same time you’re making the sauce, bring a pot of salted water to boil and add a pound of pasta.  When the pasta is really al dente, drain (remember to reserve a half-cup of the pasta cooking water just in case you need to dilute the sauce or loosen the pasta for easier tossing).

6. Toss the pasta with the tomato sauce and serve with chopped parsley (or sometimes I use chopped basil) on top

7. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

This is so simple and, other than seeding the tomatoes, it is not labor intensive.  A summer bonus: it doesn’t heat up the kitchen!

Good luck and enjoy – cr


It is as simple as that: tomatoes, garlic, basil, plus some olive oil and salt and I am a happy camper!


A little secret is the addition of the anchovies–you do not taste them but they add depth and complexity to the sauce.  I put red pepper flakes in just about everything !


For a healthier meal I used brown rice penne, but Roberto would probably cringe!  So unless you have health reasons go for a good penne or whatever pasta shape you like the most–it works with any shape.  Don’t tell the Italians I said that because we know they are very specific in the marriage of sauce and pasta!


In my home I use linens for every meal, but I love all of the wonderful new paper napkins and placemats that are available today.  For a casual lunch, why not ?  What could be easier?


10 thoughts on “The Promised Tomato Sauce from Italy: Yum!

  1. Grape tomatoes are MUCH more bitter than cherry tomatoes. Though they taste similar cold, when cooked, the bitterness is really pronounced. I’d use cherry when looking for a sweeter tomato taste. Cooked grape tomatoes aren’t very good. They’re nice for eating raw, when their popping skin is desired texture in a salad or side.

    • HI, that is really interesting you have piqued my curiosity. I did not notice it being bitter with the grape tomatoes but that may be because of the larger tomatoes. I am going to try two sauces tonight to compare —will keep you posted as to my findings cr

  2. We just moved from AZ to MD & our next door neighbor has wonderful home grown tomatoes–I will try this…
    My grandmother was from Italy and a wonderful cook, but I don’t remember her ever putting anchovies in
    her sauces. However, she used to make us scrambled egg sandwiches on thick Italian slices of bread w/
    anchovies. Loved them. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I think the difference may be the very green olive oil..when I lived there one was the joy of filling an empty bottle with the olive oil from locals..then tasting it on everything possible..

  4. It is a lot easier to remove the seeds first, by cutting the tomatoes in half before boiling, and digging the seeds out with your thumb in one quick, efficient motion. It preserves the pulp. Boil the halves as normal, and it is a breeze to remove the skins when they are halved.

    • I am just getting ready to try the recipe again with one sauce made from cherries and one from grape tomatoes to check the bitterness question I shall try your method for getting rid of the seeds. thanks cr

  5. CIAO!
    Welcome home………….
    I honeymooned in PORTE ERCOLE 27 years ago!There was an old castle in ruins that children were playing soccer in!We loved that moment.Anyway,I am married to a REAL ITALIAN and your completely right about the pasta and their sauces!I noticed you are using GLUTEN FREE as I do and I have found that one to be the best around.Still does not compare to the real thing but what is a girl to do if her stomach will not allow the gluten!I must go back and see your previous posts……did you share your paintings??I do hope so!

  6. Oh my, yummy. Easy, delicious and looks so pretty ( I used goat cheese instead of parmesan), glass of wine, I’m set.

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