Tomato sauce (also known as Neapolitan sauce, and referred to in Italy as Salsa di pomodoro) refers to any of a very large number of sauces made primarily from tomatoes, usually to be served as part of a dish (rather than as a condiment). Tomato sauces are common for meat and vegetables, but they are perhaps best known as sauces for pasta dishes.
Tomatoes have a rich flavor, high liquid content, very soft flesh which breaks down easily, and the right composition to thicken into a sauce when they are cooked (without the need of thickeners such as roux). All of these qualities make them ideal for simple and appealing sauces. The simplest tomato sauces consist just of chopped tomato flesh cooked in a little olive oil and simmered until it loses its raw flavor, and seasoned with salt.
Optionally tomato skins may be scalded and peeled according to texture (especially thicker pelati paste varieties) and tomato seeds may be removed to avoid their bitterness.
Water (or another, more flavorful liquid such as stock or wine) is sometimes added to keep it from drying out too much. Onion and garlic are almost always sweated or sautéed at the beginning before the tomato is added, or puréed together with tomatoes and then cooked together. Other seasonings typically include dried mild chili peppers, such as guajillo chili or pasilla chili, epazote, basil, oregano, parsley, and possibly some spicy red pepper or black pepper. Ground or chopped meat is also common. In countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, the term "tomato sauce" is used to describe a condiment similar to ketchup. In some of these countries, both terms are used for the condiment.
Tomato sauce was an ancient condiment in Mesoamerican food. The first western person to write of what may have been a tomato sauce was Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan Friar, who made note of a prepared sauce that was offered for sale in the markets of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City today). Of this he wrote (translated from Spanish),
They sell some stews made of peppers and tomatoes, usually put in them peppers, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, green peppers and fat tomatoes and other things that make tasty stews.— Florentine Codex (1540-1585)
Spaniards later brought the use of tomatoes to Europe.
Basic Mexican tomato sauce (salsa de tomate rojo o jitomate) traditionally was prepared with a molcajete to puree the tomatoes. Food that is cooked in tomato sauce is known as entomatada. The tomato sauce is stock for spicy sauces and moles.
The misconception that the tomato has been central to Italian cuisine since its introduction from the Americas is often repeated. Though the tomato was introduced from the Spanish New World to European botanists in the 16th century, tomato sauce made a relatively late entry in Italian cuisine: in Antonio Latini's cookbook Lo scalco alla moderna (Naples, 1692).
Latini was chef to the Spanish viceroy of Naples, and one of his tomato recipes is for sauce alla spagnuola, "in the Spanish style". The first known use of tomato sauce with pasta appears in the Italian cookbook L'Apicio moderno, by Roman chef Francesco Leonardi, edited in 1790.
Italian varieties of tomato sauce range from the very simple pasta al pomodoro to the piquant puttanesca and arrabbiata sauces. Tomato sauce with pasta can stand on its own or it can also be paired with ingredients such as Italian sausage, clams, bacon cubes, tuna, meatballs or vegetables, for a more lively pasta dish.
Tomato-garlic sauce is prepared using tomatoes as a main ingredient, and is used in various cuisines and dishes. In Italian cuisine, alla pizzaiola refers to tomato-garlic sauce, which is used on pizza, pasta and meats.
Sauce tomate is one of the five mother sauces of classical French cooking, as codified by Auguste Escoffier in the early 20th century. It consists of salt belly of pork, onions, bay leaves, thyme, tomato purée or fresh tomatoes, roux, garlic, salt, sugar, and pepper. Many times, butter and flour will be listed in the ingredients, but those are only used to make the roux (thickening agent).
The most common use of the term tomato sauce in New Zealand and South Africa is to describe a popular, commercially produced condiment, that is a type of Table Sauce, similar to American ketchup but without vinegar, typically applied to foods such as meat pies, sausages, other cooked meat, (in particular Steak) and Fish and chips. Tomato-based sauces served with pasta would commonly be referred to as "pasta sauce" or "Napoletana sauce".[disputed ]
The meaning of the term "tomato sauce" depends on the context; on a restaurant menu the phrase "in a tomato sauce" means a freshly prepared tomato based sauce as used on pasta, and colloquially it may refer to either the pasta sauce or American ketchup.[disputed ]
In the U.S., "tomato sauce" refers to two distinct sauces. One is a tomato concentrate with salt and minimal herbs, used in cooking. This product is considered incomplete and not normally used as is. Related ingredients are tomato purée and tomato paste, each of which is similar but of a thicker consistency. Tomato purée and tomato paste have FDA standards of identity (since 1939) for percentage of tomato solids, and generally do not contain seasonings other than salt; tomato sauce is nonstandardized.
The second use of the term "tomato sauce" in the U.S. is for a cooked sauce of tomatoes, usually containing olive oil and garlic. This type of tomato sauce is generally served with pasta, and sometimes with meat. Less commonly, it is served with chicken or beef alone. One popular variety of tomato sauce is marinara sauce, an Italian-American term for a simple tomato sauce with herbs—mostly parsley and basil.
Contrary to what the name might suggest ('marinara' is Italian for "sailor-style") it is without seafood. In Italy, marinara refers either to sauces made with tomato and garlic (as in pizza marinara) or to seafood-based sauces or foods; in this case, the name does not imply that tomato is either included or excluded.
Some Italian Americans on the East Coast and around the Chicago area refer to tomato sauce as "gravy", "tomato gravy", or "Sunday gravy", especially sauces with a large quantity of meat simmered in them, similar to the Italian Neapolitan ragù. The term "Sunday gravy" derives from the Italian tradition of having a large, family dinner on Sunday afternoons. "Gravy" is an erroneous English translation from the Italian sugo which means juice, but can also mean sauce (as in sugo per pastasciutta).
The expression for "gravy" in Italian is sugo d'arrosto, which is literally "juice of a roast" and is not specifically tomato sauce. Sicilian Americans in communities like Buffalo and Rochester, New York use the terms "sarsa" and "succu" interchangeably for tomato sauces of all types used with pasta, and "gravy" only in reference to brown meat gravies. The Italian-American community of New Orleans, however, is largely Sicilian in origin and takes great pride in its Creole-Italian cuisine largely based on what is known locally as "red gravy" (tomato sauce).
American supermarkets commonly carry a variety of prepared tomato sauces described as "spaghetti sauce" or "pasta sauce." Common variations include meat sauce, marinara sauce, and sauces with mushrooms or sweet red peppers.
A spicy tomato sauce known as sauce piquante is common in Louisiana Cajun cuisine, that can contain any seafood, poultry, or meats such as wild game. It is typically served over white rice. In Louisiana Creole cuisine, there is a tomato sauce known as a Creole sauce. It is similar to Italian tomato sauce, but features more Louisiana flavors derived from the fusion of French and Spanish cooking styles. They both usually contain the traditional holy trinity of diced bell pepper, onion, and celery.
Tomato gravy is distinct from the term as used by Italian Americans when referring to a type of tomato sauce particularly where tomatoes were a staple food. The cooked tomatoes, some fat (usually cured pork fat) and flour are cooked together until thick, and seasoned with salt and pepper. Onions or bell peppers may be added as well. Typically, tomato gravy is served over pasta. It is also eaten largely by Creole people in the Southern United States, who eat it over rice.
Some Indian curries have a tomato based sauce, many vegetarian style dishes.
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