Spaghetti Sauce (Best Recipe)

This is a terrific, simple little tomato sauce, of the slightly chunky kind.  I especially like it because it uses pantry ingredients that I keep around all the time anyway.  Except for the basil, but I grow my own basil so I always have it available too.  I keep boxes of rotini pasta in the pantry and italian sausage in the freezer, so I can make a quick easy meal at 3am if I want to ( it happens). 

This recipe uses canned tomatoes; surprisingly, most professional chefs appear to recommend using canned tomatoes instead of fresh, even when you have good ones.  The fresh basil is absolutely required; don't make it if you can't find it.

This recipe is from the "The Best Recipe" cookbook, by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine.  This magazine does exhaustive testing of recipes to find "the best recipe" for a particular dish.  For example, they'll test 70 different variations of chocolate chip cookie recipes.  The descriptions of their testing make pretty interesting reading.  It's an excellent cookbook with some terrific recipes that I use a lot.  However, food is ultimately a matter of personal preferences, and some of their recipes aren't necessarily my favorites for the dish in question. 

1 28oz can diced or whole tomatoes (not packed in puree or sauce) (see more information below)
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves (about 8 leaves)  
(I'm fairly generous with the basil)

1.  If using diced tomatoes, go to step 2.  If using whole tomatoes, drain and reserve the liquid.  Put tomatoes in food processor fitted with metal blade and process with 3 or 4 half-second pulses.  Tomatoes should be coarse, with 1/4 inch pieces visible (note:  I tend to process it rather smoother, but still a little chunky).  If necessary, add enough reserved liquid to tomatoes to total 2-2/3 cups.

2.  Process garlic through garlic press into small bowl and stir in 1 teaspoon water (note:  garlic pushed through a garlic press can be pretty sharp tasting; in their testing, the authors found out that stirring in a small amount of water before sautéing it will smooth it out.  It seems to work).  Heat 2 tablespoons oil and garlic in large saute pan over medium heat until fragrant but not brown (Use very gentle heat:  DON'T LET IT BROWN.  A really large pan works best).  Stir in tomatoes; simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes (A large pan works best for this; I tend to simmer it longer to make it a little thicker).  Stir in basil, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and use as desired.


The authors also did research into the best brands and style of canned tomatoes.  Their conclusion was that whole tomatoes were far superior to crushed, and the best nationally-available brands were Muir Glenn and Progresso.  However, they decided Muir Glenn's Diced Tomatoes product was the clear winner.  It was more convenient too, because you could dump the entire can into the pan without first draining it.  As for me, I wasn't able to find the Muir Glenn diced product, so I got into the habit of using Progresso or Muir Glenn whole tomatoes.