Escoffier's phrase faites simple translates as make it simple or keep it simple. Elizabeth David defined it as the avoidance of all unnecessary complication and elaboration.*
When I came across Italian cookery writer Marcella Hazan's recipe for tomato sauce with onion and butter I was reminded of Escoffier and David's words. Such a simple, elegant recipe. Take some fresh, ripe tomatoes, a lump of butter and a peeled onion, put them in a pot and simmer for 45 minutes. Discard the onion and eat the sauce.
And yet, and yet...... I couldn't help complicating and elaborating just a little.
To begin with I used tinned tomatoes. That was allowed, I'd seen other versions of this recipe using tinned toms and nothing will induce me to buy imported tomatoes out of season, and actually tinned tomatoes are less fuss to prepare.
Secondly, I felt, as did others that discarding the onion was a crime. I decided I would blend it into the sauce at the end of the cooking time. To make this easier on my stick blender and to reduce spaltter I chopped it into chunks before adding it to the tomatoes.
Thirdly, I threw in a couple of peeled garlic cloves.
A grinding of black pepper was my final complication.
Despite my tinkering I feel this is still a very simple recipe; easy to make, few ingredients and above all really delicious.
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes - use good quality tomatoes. I used the Italian brand Cirio because they were half price but I have had excellent results with Waitrose own brand.
1 onion cut into large chunks
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 oz (55g) butter - I used salted butter but did not add any salt to the sauce
Black pepper, from a peppermill
A blue pot - essential for the pleasure of seeing the complementary colours of blue and orange in your kitchen on a dull February day.**
Put all the ingredients except the pepper in the blue pot over a low heat.
Simmer for 45 - 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Let it cool a little before going in with a stick blender, or use a food processor. Blend the onion and garlic into the tomato until it is reaches a consistency you are happy with. Your sauce will now have tuned from red to a lovely glowing orange which will be enhanced by your blue pot.
Grind on some black pepper.
I used some of my sauce on these simple pitta pizzas which are a regular school holiday lunch in our house.
I will use the rest on proper pizzas this Friday.
I also intend to make an enormous batch of this sauce to stash in the freezer.
Use this sauce in a baked pasta dish tossing it with cooked pasta and topping with cheese sauce before baking.
You could add cooked ham, tuna, prawns, crisp bits of bacon or mushrooms to make a more substantial pasta sauce.
Use it to cover chicken breasts for baking, perhaps with some mozzarella tucked inside each one.
Bake white fish fillets in it with some black olives for a Provençal flavour.
Serve with breadcrumbed pork or turkey escalopes, or with sausages as a change from onion gravy.
Pour it into a shallow baking dish and crumble feta cheese over it, put in the oven to melt the cheese. Scoop up with crusty bread .
Bake vegetables in it; big flat mushrooms, wedges of squash or pumpkin, sliced courgettes, aubergine slices or peppers. Add some chunks of goat's cheese. Eat with bread.
Make a meatless main course layering it with sliced aubergines, squash slices or courgettes and mozzarella. Top with a shower of grated parmesan.
Smear a bit on a pancake, top with grated cheese, roll up, pack into a baking dish, spoon over more tomato sauce, or use cheese sauce, and bake.
Pour it into a shallow dish and crack some eggs into it, bake.
Turn it into soup by thinning it with stock, milk or maybe some single cream.
Make a quick bolognese or lasagne sauce by adding browned minced beef to it.
* From French Provincial Cooking
** If you don't have a blue pot- my sympathies, your pot should, however, have a good thick base or the sauce will burn. I can see no reason why it could not be cooked in the oven.