I don’t know if it’s an east coast Italian thing, a Calabrian thing, or what, but my boyfriend’s Italian family is not into butter as a cooking fat. They are an olive oil family, a fact I learned when I made the man a spaghetti dinner with Marcella Hazan’s three-ingredient tomato sauce with butter and onion.
He did not like it because he could “taste the butter,” which, to me, is a truly wild reason to dislike something. But, even though I disagree with his no-butter-in-the-pasta-sauce stance on a philosophical level, I use olive oil if I plan on feeding it to him, because I’m nice, and I believe my loved ones when they say they don’t like something. (He really can taste the butter if I try to sneak it in there — his palate has gotten quite good since he quit smoking.)
Anyway. I feared the absence of butter would doom me to an absence of richness, but you can achieve startling levels of luxury with olive oil — you just have to use enough of it.
I thought I was using a “good” amount of olive oil, until I made eggplant parm on Saturday night, using this genius recipe from Food52. The recipe is perfect — I didn’t change a thing. Though I usually futz and “riff,” I decided to trust the process with this one, and I was greatly rewarded. The eggplant was custardy without being soggy, the cheese was melty in the middle and beautifully broiled on top, but the simple, three-ingredient sauce threatened to steal the entire show. It is so good.
The sauce sounds too simple to be noteworthy. It’s just olive oil, garlic, and two cans of peeled tomatoes. It is, however, incredible. The recipe calls for “enough olive oil to cover the pan,” which ends up being a kind of startling amount of olive oil. That oil is then infused with three cloves of sliced garlic — I used two extra cloves because mine were small — and simmered with two cans of peeled “San Marzano style” tomatoes. (I bought the cheap grocery store brand.) Let it all reduce by half, and you have a perfect, no-frills sauce.
The generous amount of fat and aggressively reduced tomatoes gives the sauce a ton of depth and character. It’s my new favourite sauce. (I like it even more than the Hazan sauce.) It’s sweet and tangy, and finished tasting — you really don’t need to add anything else. (You can, of course. I won’t be in your kitchen to stop you, but I urge you to give it a try as written before putting your own spin on it.)
To make it, you will need:
- Olive oil
- 3-5 cloves garlic, depending on the size of your cloves
- 2 cans of peeled tomatoes
- About 3 big pinches of salt.
Put a sauce pan over medium heat and add enough olive oil to completely cover the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic, and cook until it’s sizzling and fragrant, but do not brown. Add both cans of tomatoes and a few pinches of salt, then smash and chop the tomatoes with a wooden spoon or kitchen shears. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer — stirring and scraping the bottom occasionally — until the sauce reduces by half, smushing any larger chunks of tomato as they appear. Serve with spaghetti, layer in a lasagna, or use the sauce to make a truly excellent eggplant parm.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.