Told to me by a Sicilian Italian, to make the perfect pasta sauce you must always use PURE whole plum tomatoes (crush them by hand or grind in a food processor) that do not contain any salt, sugar or other ingredients (read the label), along with unsalted paste (a thickener). Or, if you’re really adventurous, use fresh picked plum tomatoes with the skin removed! But, like most people, I’m kinda lazy about peeling skins off so I stick with the canned Hunts brand. I have done the sauce using fresh plum tomatoes, skinning them, and got excellent results in taste — but it was quite a job.
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Following this suggestion, my sauce comes out perfect every time using these ingredients, not bitter at all. Do not use cans of saying “Tomato Sauce” as they contain additives — especially salt and sugar — and for some strange reason the sauce always tastes bitter. Also, to sweeten the sauce, skin a carrot and add to the sauce. It’s a natural sweetener.
As far as herbs, I always use fresh Thyme and Basil (pull leaves from stem and discard stem as it will foul the sauce with bitterness). Do note that certain herbs can cause bitterness in the sauce, especially if you use too much (Oregano can do this, so use small amount). I also add chopped bell pepper, but watch out. Too much of this will overpower your sauce’s taste. I usually cut a regular-sized bell pepper in half, removing the seeds and membrane inside. Some people don’t like the taste of bell pepper in their sauce. Again, it’s the amount. If you don’t have a bell pepper but have Jalapeno pepper, all you do is remove the pepper’s seeds and white membrane they’re in as this is where the heat lives. This enhances the sauce’s taste, too.
I always use a fresh medium-sized yellow onion (too much onion will affect the taste) and fresh garlic cloves (don’t use that minced garlic in the jar as it tastes terrible and will ruin the delicate taste of the pasta sauce). Do not use any powdered garlic/onion salt. And of course, use cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil for best taste results. For the best meat/meatball sauce, I use a little (1/3) mild Italian sausage combined with low-fat ground beef (costs more but worth it).
Also, mushrooms really enhance the taste of the sauce and are a NECESSITY FOR PERFECT SAUCE! Spaghetti sauce without mushrooms is like eating pizza without cheese. I cook them in a separate skillet first, then add them into the sauce, the same as I do with the meat. I never throw in raw, uncooked mushrooms because of their water content. I cook them in a skillet IN BUTTER (diluted with a dash of olive oil so the butter won’t brown). Once lightly browned, I add them into the sauce using a slotted spoon.
BOILING THE PASTA: Use a big pot with lots of water (an 8-quart stock pot like the one pictured). The pasta needs to swirl around. NEVER add oil to the water. It won’t stick together if you use a big pot of water. Pasta boiled in a small pot will come out gummy. You need lots of water and have the pasta swirl around in it. Never cover the pasta pot. Don’t just throw the pasta in the water. Drop it in slowly and loose in boiling bubbling water. Never add pasta to a pot that has not reached full boil. The water must have a RAPID BUBBLE! The rule is one handful of pasta per person.
ONE MORE SECRET TASTE TIP: If you have to add water to the sauce, which most people do, consider using low sodium fat free chicken stock instead. I guarantee your sauce will really taste wonderful. I learned this trick from Rachel Ray and it really, really does make your Marinara or meat sauce taste delicious. But you must read the label and make sure it’s salt free or low-sodium.
IMPORTANT: Allow the sauce to cook for at least 2 1/2 hours so that the oils in the herbs marry into the sauce well. The liquid in the sauce also has to reduce down for best results. Rushing pasta sauce will always end in disaster. I always use my cast iron enamel-coated 6-qt dutch oven to make the sauce in, same as what the professional chefs on TV use. I put the cover on with the lid ajar to allow reduction. If your sauce is too watery, all you need do is cook it on slow bubble UNCOVERED to let it reduce down to thicken.
I hope you enjoyed my cooking tips. These are from years of trial and error. Just wanted to share these findings with you. Good luck with your Italian dinner, chefs.