The movie “The Godfather” is not only made of gunshots and horse heads, which is now back in theaters on account of its 50th anniversary. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece also has a quick but important dash of culinary history in its screenplay.
By the stove, the character Clemenza, played by Richard Castellano, appears in a scene preparing a tomato sauce. He invites Michael (Al Pacino), the heir to the Corleone family, to pay attention to the recipe: sauteed garlic, fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, sausages and meatballs, wine and a little sugar.
There’s no way to pinpoint the birth of the gastronomic debate about how — and whether it’s even necessary — to break the acidity of a tomato sauce, but it doesn’t seem risky to guess that it must have been around since before Marlon Brando dreamed of putting cotton in his jaw.
While sugar is Clemenza’s secret, some find the ingredient unnecessary. “I don’t use it”, summarizes chef Flávio Santoro, a professor at Le Cordon Bleu São Paulo.
“If you research about the origin of acidity, it comes mainly from the seed and the skin, especially from the seed when broken. So, just remove both and you will already have very little acidity. Another factor is the variety of tomato used, some are naturally more acidic than others. Tomatoes like carmen have a very welcome acidity in salads. But, for sauce, the rasteiro and the Italian ones are more favorable”, he explains.
When he still needs to fix the tone of the sauce, Santoro turns to carrots. “Carrots have a natural sweetness rate that breaks down acidity. One situation where this happens is when the tomato you have there at the time is not very ripe. The greener tomato is more acidic.”
Its secret, continues Santoro, is mirepoix, a typical French dish in which carrots, celery or celery, and onions or leeks are cut into tiny cubes — the chef, in this case, mixes everything with the tomatoes.
“I sauté everything very well until it gets very brown and causes natural caramelization. Then I add the tomatoes. Many people think that the sauce is a preparation that should be cooked only until the tomato breaks down and then it can be beaten or crushed. I realize that the result is much better when it cooks for a long time. I leave it at least six hours, if possible, even longer”, he teaches.
“Sugar is sometimes good, but the good thing is to put carrots, it takes the place of sugar”, agrees chef Erick Jacquin. He recommends making a stir-fry with onions and carrots, and also adding red wine.
“Fresh tomatoes have to be very ripe. Take the old tomatoes that you have in the kitchen, it’s good to avoid waste. I put thyme, bay leaf, never rosemary. A little garlic, basil. I let it cook for a long time, slowly, half a tomato fresh, half canned tomato”, says Jacquin, raising another controversial point, that of preserved food.
“And that’s it, I’m not going to tell you all my secrets, because then it’s not a secret anymore.”
Author of famous cookbooks, including the “Fundamentals of Classical Italian Cuisine”, Italian Marcella Hazan also saw no problem in resorting to cans of peeled tomatoes.
One of their more traditional sauce recipes calls for two cups of the ingredient, onion, salt and butter. Lots of butter. Marcella recommended, in a preparation for six people, practically one tablespoon per dinner.
Writer and chef, Helô Bacelar warns that it may irritate purists, but replies that “everything depends on the ingredient at hand”. “Someone in the south of Italy has a tomato plantation next door, and will harvest the tomato in the height of summer, ultra-ripe, sweet, and will make the sauce using that tomato”, she exemplifies.
“Is it a tomato that has acidity? It does, but it has a higher concentration of sugar, as with any fruit. And, if you have a tomato like that in your hand, it’s quite possible that you don’t need to break acidity because it alone It’s almost a dessert.”
Helô, however, says that, as not everyone has access to what she calls an “ideal world”, it is necessary to think about alternatives. “You can even find the best tomato, but the chance of it being very expensive is huge. We have to cook according to each one’s pocket”, she believes.
Therefore, if the most perfect tomatoes are not available, it is permissible to use peeled tomatoes. “The person who likes to cook has to have some cans in the pantry, because they break a million branches.”
“And to balance the acidity, you have to use a sweet element that can be sugar, honey, molasses, carrots. I’ve never used bicarbonate for that purpose”, he says.
Chef Roberto Ravioli also enters the debate on sugar in the sauce: “But of course you add it! It serves precisely to remove the bitterness and acidity. And, if you don’t have sugar, add sweetener, two drops”.
Ravioli reveals that he only uses peeled tomatoes. “Fresh ones don’t have a standard. There are some beautiful ones on the outside, you open them and they’re crap. People have to stop with preciosity: if the sauce gets acidic, it gets bad. And who wants to eat bad sauce?”.