I enjoy having dinner at friends of mine. Great laughs, chats and food are involved – all fantastic ingredients for a good night out. I especially love the eating bit, particularly because my friends come up with interesting and sometimes completely new meals.
One specific friend of mine makes simple but memorable meals. She has a wonderful tendency of throwing things together and luckily for her (and myself) it always comes out wonderfully tasty. She is currently my favorite person to visit because of this.
She is married to an Italian, so she valiantly learned to speak advanced Italian (I suspect mainly so that her in-laws can’t talk about her behind her back while in the same room with her) and learned to make traditional Italian meals.
She knows I have a love of pasta – as do all those really close to me. One evening she decided to make tomato chicken lasagna. Now, this friend can be extremely funny in the way she cooks. She didn’t have chicken mince, but while others would have merely chopped the chicken fillets into pieces, she wanted to shred the chicken to given the impression of chicken mince. Suffice to say is just looked like shredded chicken. I humored her though, even though it took FOREVER to shred with a fork.
Next, she made her tomato sauce. As we are chatting, I am also observing how she is making this sauce. Like I’ve mentioned, I love my pasta. I love various sauces that go over pasta and I am used to sweet and spicy, hearty tomato sauce. My understanding is that the addition of sugar is to take away the acidity that comes with standard tomatoes. When she was done making her sauce, I realized she hadn’t put in any sugar and I wondered about this. When I asked her about it, she firmly stated that traditional tomato sauce absolutely does not include sugar. She learned that if the sauce is cooked long enough then the acidity will cook away and will become naturally sweeter.
Although I rather enjoyed her lasagna, I was still missing that little bit of sweetness that I am used to, and to my palette, the sauce was a bit too sour and sharp, despite the fact that it felt like it cooked for hours (it was only an hour and a half, but I was hungry). This sparked my interest, because surely there is something that should be able to remove that tomato-y sharpness.
When I Googled “Traditional Tomato Sauce – sugar or no sugar”, I found that this was actually a worldwide debate – apparently people, especially the Italians, take their tomato sauce VERY seriously. And most people are VERY adamant that sugar must never ever, ever, ever be added to it.
Hmmm, ok, but then what does one add to get rid of that sourness, I pondered to myself. Reading on, I found that, there are a few tricks the Italians employ. Most add a sweet wine, others carrots (who knew?), others have taken chemistry knowledge and add baking soda. One that made most sense was the addition of basil, but I have used basil in my sauce and still feel the need to add some sugar.
An important factor, it seems, is the use of good, ripe tomatoes. Rosa or plum tomatoes (the elongated extra red ones) are usually the nicest and sweetest tomato, but still, what if it’s not sweet enough.
So, here I began to think that perhaps adding sugar is more of a South African thing, perhaps even a Cape Malay modification. But wait, I thought. Let me first, just for luck, Google Napolitana and Lasagna sauce as these are the most popular tomato type sauces used over pasta. And what do I find? More often than not, at least a teaspoon or two of sugar is added to these particular sauces!
So, even though I have researched various types of sauce recipes, and even if all the recipes had to insist on no sugar whatsoever, I would still add a little bit, because it makes me happy as well as my family and all those I cook for. Another addition I like to make to my sauce, and many might scowl at these additions, are chutney and Worcester sauce. These just add a little bit of full-bodied richness to a tomato sauce and it certainly does not make it worse. It all comes down to taste and preference. There is nothing wrong with the way your sauce is made. At the end of the day, it’s about whether the end result made you happy and satisfied.
And now all this talk about rich, hearty pasta is making me crave it. Guess what I’ll be having for dinner tonight…?
Serious Eats, 2013,Poll: Sugar in Tomato Sauce, Way or No Way?, viewed on 21 May 2014, from http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2013/03/poll-sugar-in-tomato-sauce-way-or-no-way.html
All Recipes, n.d., World’s Best Lasagna, viewed on 21 May 2014, from http://allrecipes.com/recipe/worlds-best-lasagna/
Best Recipes, n.d., Napolitana Sauce, viewed on 21 May 2014, from http://www.bestrecipes.com.au/recipe/napolitana-sauce-L13944.html
Featured image: Gonzalez, J., n.d., Tomato sauce in a container, viewed on 21 May 2014, from http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/tomato-sauce-in-a-container-royalty-free-image/172314189#
Image 1: Breakey, A., n.d., Fresh tomatoe sauce with onion, viewed on 21 May 2014, from http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/fresh-tomatoe-sauce-with-onion-high-res-stock-photography/90040427#
Image 2: Wilkins, P., n.d., Man slicing tomatoes, close up, viewed on 21 May 2014, from http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/man-slicing-tomatoes-close-up-high-res-stock-photography/122011042#
Image 3: Hubbard, L., n.d., Whole wheat spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce, biewed on 21 May 2014, from http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/whole-wheat-spaghetti-with-fresh-tomato-high-res-stock-photography/93333726#