Vanilla-Infused Tomato Sauce
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
1 allspice leaf
1 bay leaf
1 vanilla bean
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
Vanilla’s sweet aromatics make it a charming complement to tomatoes, taming their acidity with a little help from good ol’ butter. Allspice leaf adds another layer of spice with an herbal quality that bridges the sweet and savory gap. This sauce is terrific with roast cauliflower, ricotta gnocchi, lobster ravioli, and grilled or pan-fried fish, such as monkfish or haddock.
Put the onion (cut side down) and the remaining ingredients into a sauce pan. Use your hands to break the tomatoes into rough pieces, removing any tough, stem-end bits. Add 1⁄2 cup water to the pan.
Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring its contents to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, until the fat is floating on top, around the edges.
Fish out the onion, vanilla, and the spice leaves. (For a cook’s treat, cut up the onion and top it with toasted bread crumbs, a little Parmesan cheese, and some black pepper.) Stir the sauce — it should be glossy. If it’s not, stir in another tablespoon of butter. Taste and add salt or pepper, if needed. You can crush the tomatoes further with a spoon or purée the sauce with a stick blender.
Wash and dry the vanilla bean and save it to use another time. The sauce will keep nicely in the fridge, for a couple of days.