Selecting a basic herb-tomato sauce from the many, many dozens that were submitted was an agonizing chore. This one edged out many other fine entries for its simplicity, fresh approach, and the short cooking time after the leafy herbs were added. While many excellent cooks take the “less is more” approach and add only fractions of teaspoons of herbs, we liked the more assertive style here and the surprising and intriguing addition of lemon balm (which cooks out to a mellow hint of not-quite-lemon). This sauce depends on a greater-than-usual amount of chopped carrot to cut the acidity of fresh tomatoes.
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 medium red onion, chopped
• 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
• 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 3 medium carrots, chopped
• 1/2 pound mushrooms, coarsely chopped
• 8 cups chopped, fresh, seeded tomatoes (or 28 ounces canned tomatoes)
• 1 teaspoon aniseed, crushed
• 1 bay leaf
• 1/4 cup dry red wine
• 1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
• 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
• 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
• 2 tablespoons lemon balm, chopped
Sauté onion, bell pepper, garlic, and carrots in olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan until vegetables are tender (about 10 minutes). Add mushrooms and continue cooking 2 or 3 minutes more.
Add tomatoes, bay leaf (broken), aniseed, and wine. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens (about 1 to 11/2 hours).
Add oregano, basil, parsley, and lemon balm; stir and simmer 15 to 20 minutes longer to let flavors mingle.
Little Rock, Arkansas