The Red Sauce we Deserve

I ate spaghetti Napoletana at least four nights a week when I lived in Japan. This was not only because it is probably one of my favo(u)rite dishes, but also because it was incredibly cheap to make, even in Japan. While other shapes of noodles in are reasonably rare, and often expensive if available, the price of spaghetti indicates that this noodle has obviously been integrated into the mainstream of Japanese cooking. The other ingredients required (mostly onions and garlic) to make Napoletana sauce are also inexpensive and readily available in even the smallest supermarkets in Japan. It also just so happens that tomatoes, while not a central feature of Japanese cooking, are still one of the more inexpensive items of produce available– especially when considering nutritional value.

Since I started making it in Japan, this recipe has evolved considerably. It is only in the last year or two that it has become constant. I like to think that this sauce has undergone a fundamentalist revolution in my kitchen. While history has shown us that fundamentalism is often a sign of political turmoil, in this case it saved the sauce.

I don’t know much about how the Italian naming convention of sauce works. There’s some story about how specific names for sauce, like Napoletana or marinara, are only used for specific dishes. Whatever this sauce is actually called, I use it most often as pizza sauce, but it works– as I discussed emphatically above– as a pasta sauce too. It also works as a sauce for seafood (think baked fish or potted mussels), or a dipping sauce for bread-sticks and deep-fried mozzarella. Whatever you want to use it for, it also freezes very nicely, so it’s a good use of time to make a huge batch.


The Red Sauce we Deserve 

Yield: 2-3 servings of pasta, or 4-5 pizzas

  • 1 can of chopped, peeled tomatoes, or about 1kg (about 2lbs) fresh tomatoes
  • 3-4 fresh, very ripe tomatoes, any variety
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 fresh chili; or about 1 tsp dried chili flakes
  • 2 tsp dried oregano; or about 6 sprigs fresh
  • 2 tsp dried basil; or a small handful fresh
  • 1 can water (simply fill the empty tomato can with water)
  • glug of olive oil (about 1 tbs)
  • salt and pepper to taste


Dice all the vegetables. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, chili, oregano, and basil. If using fresh herbs, do not add them yet. Cook gently until the onions become translucent and the mixture is fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, canned and fresh tomatoes, and water. If using fresh herbs, add them with the tomatoes. Once the sauce begins to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for at least 30-40 minutes.

Optional, but recommended step (especially if you will be using this as pizza sauce): after cooking for 30-40 minutes, remove from the heat for at least 10 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor on the lowest setting for about 30 seconds, or until the sauce just becomes uniform.


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