Chef Anthony Lombardo crafts Modern American plates at the Georgetown restaurant 1789, but when the Italian-American chef cooks at home, he goes back to his roots: "If I don't eat pasta and red sauce for a couple of weeks, I'll literally start to shake." For easy weeknight dishes, Lombardo uses his aunt (or zia) Maria's recipe. If you have bacon, prosciutto, or Parmesan rinds, Lombardo says to include them--they'll season the sauce and make for a lightly smoky, creamy finish.
Zia Maria's Red Sauce
Makes 2 quarts
½ cup good-qualityextra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves fresh garlic,finely chopped or crushed with a garlic press
1 medium carrot,peeled and grated
1 medium white onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon dried oregano (Lombardo's family uses dried Sicilian oregano sold in bunches at Italian specialty shops such as Vace and the Italian Store)
1 tablespoon dried basil
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
2 28-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes, such as San Marzano
¹⁄8 cup sea salt, or to taste
Optional: ½ cup prosciutto or bacon and one or two small Parmesan rinds, if using.
1. Over low heat, slowly warm the olive oil in a saucepan large enough to hold the tomatoes. The slower you warm the oil, the more flavor you'll bring out.
2. Add the garlic, raise the heat to medium, and begin to stir--it will take about 5 minutes to brown. Then add the carrots, onions, and dried herbs.
3. Cover the pan and turn the heat to medium-low. Keep an eye on it--it's okay if the onions start to brown a bit; just make sure the garlic doesn't get too dark.
4. While the onions and carrots are cooking down, pour the tomatoes into a large bowl and crush them with your hands until they feel puréed. Save all the juices and seeds.
5. After the carrots have cooked for 3 minutes, add the tomatoes to the pan and let them simmer. Add the prosciutto, bacon, or cheese rinds. Simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally, until it's thick enough to stick to the back of the spoon. Check periodically to make sure the sauce isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan.
6. Stir in the sea salt and basil.
This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for 5 to 6 days. You can also freeze it in plastic zipper bags or Tupperware.
This article appears in the March 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.