Classic Tomato Sauces, part 3 – My favourite garlic-based Sugo di Pomodoro

I think it might be my favourite sugo, in part, because it packs in a lot of taste with relatively little effort.  This one uses garlic as opposed to onion … but is not ‘garlicky’ at all, just tasty — so you won’t have to worry about how your breath behaves after eating it!  You may kiss to your heart’s content …

One first of all has to make a basic tomato sauce as described in the August 15th post on sugo making ( …. and then proceed as follows.

Pour olive oil into a saucepan and add some garlic.  I realise this is a very vague instruction … but ‘some’ depends on not a few considerations.  First of all, how much sugo is going to be prepared … more sugo, logically, requires more garlic.  Second, it all depends on the garlic.  The stronger the raw garlic, the less is required.  What never varies is … the amount of olive oil.  Always use plenty!  I insist.  You will not get a good sugo unless you use ‘plenty’ of olive oil.  And …. it has to be good olive oil.  The better the olive oil, the better the sugo.  As my grandmother never wearied of saying, “if you don’t put the stuff in your dish when cooking it, you ain’t going to find it when eating it”.

Anyway:  Add your garlic to the olive oil (extra virgin olive oil naturally, evoo) and turn on the heat, taking care that the garlic does not brown.  It is very fashionable these days in Italy to remove the garlic once it has generously imparted its taste to whatever dish is being prepared … but I am of the old-fashioned school of culinary practice and prefer to leave the garlic to the very end when making sugo.  The more the garlic cooks, the sweeter it becomes … as any stew-lover knows.  And in some ways, any ‘salsa di pomodoro’ or ‘sugo’ or ‘sughetto finto’ (all variations of the same thing) is nothing but a stew.

Wait for the garlic to turn a golden colour before adding the tomato base …

Simmer for about 20 minutes and add fresh basil leaves towards the end so that they cook for at least 5 minutes — I left the leaves intact for the sake of this photo but it’s a good idea to tear them up before putting them in.

Also towards the end, add a little salt and sugar if necessary.  Stir … and taste.  Add more salt and/or sugar if required.  You have to keep tasting the sugo until the very end.

At the very end … i.e. when the sugo tastes scrumptuous already …. switch off the heat and … wait for it … this is very unexpected … add …. you’ll never guess what ….

Roll of drums and Da da da daaaaaa:

A spoonful of butter!

The sugo al pomodoro is hot so the butter will melt quickly.  Stir.  Enjoy it plain on your pasta, as in the classic spaghetti al pomodoro, and, if you like, sprinkle some freshly grated parmesan cheese over the dish.  The sugo, by the way, will keep in the fridge in a glass jar for up to a week.

Ambrosia.  And easily a chef’s favourite … not just that of my children.  Google around if you don’t believe me.  In Italy, a chef is judged by how good his of her sugo al pomodoro is.


No one can appreciate how ‘peculiar’ this addition of butter is unless he or she has lived in Italy for a while.  It is not surprising that Italy should boast an olive-oil based cuisine and that butter tends to be used mostly in the north of Italy and hardly at all in the south. But you have to understand that butter is thought of as slightly risqué in the Italian kitchen south of northern Italy — I doubt most people would even consider the inclusion of  butter in their sugo because, to them, it would seem like a contradiction in terms.

Mine is, you see, a habit I learnt from my above-mentioned grandmother … to me it seems ‘normal’ because I grew up seeing her do it.  I have had heated debates with Italian friends and family as to the appropriateness of adding butter to a sugo and hardly anyone has ever agreed with me (even though, and I say so immodestly, everyone commented on how ‘buono’ and ‘buonissimo’ my spaghetti al pomodoro was).  Picture my glee then, and imagine how  justifiably ‘vindicated’ I got to feel, a few months ago when my beautiful friend Susanna, who is a fantastic home cook and from whom I have picked up many a culinary tip, told me that she had attended a cooking class at the posh Hotel de Russie in Rome with, non other, the fabled ex-Gambero Rosso Chef Fulvio Pietrangelini.  “And guess what?,” she asked me as if she were revealing the most wicked and unheard of indiscretion in Gastroland, “He uses tons of olive oil and even adds butter at the end!”.  I wish my grandmother were alive to tell her!

The main reason butter is generally feared is one based on a very unresonable assumption that it is not healthy.  What rubbish!   Butter, if you like it, is good,  butter is in fact delicious, and butter is actually very good for one’s health … provided it is not burnt butter!

To the Editor:

Re: ”Trans Fat Fight Claims Butter as a Victim” (March 7): The graphic for this story suggests that butter has more natural trans fat than other dairy foods and meat. But no one sits down to eat a stick of butter, and the other foods are all roughly serving sizes. For a one-tablespoon serving of butter, the number is .39 grams, too low to be listed on a label.

Unlike manufactured trans fat, butter is loaded with good things: vitamins, minerals, a natural liver cleanser, an anti-arthritic compound, even oleic acid (also found in olive oil) and its short-chain fatty acids don’t promote fat storage. In the absence of long-term controlled studies proving that natural trans fat isn’t dangerous, there’s one that shows that it seems to be beneficial. The University of Washington’s Cardiovascular Health Research Unit discovered that high levels of trans linoleic acid (in manufactured trans fats) in the red blood cells doubled the risk of death from heart disease, whereas high trans oleic levels (in olives and butter) cut the death rate by two-thirds.

These ignorant food policy mandates will soon lead us to ban mother’s milk, loaded as it is with ”bad” things: cholesterol, saturated fat, sugar and trans fat.

Fran McCullough
Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

The writer is the author of ”Good Fat” (Scribner, 2004).

About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
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1 Response to Classic Tomato Sauces, part 3 – My favourite garlic-based Sugo di Pomodoro

  1. Pingback: L’Arrabbiata -The Anger Management Pasta (Classic Tomato Sauce, part 4) in a Duet with a Plain Tomato Sauce | My Home Food That's Amore

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