When we imagine a tomato-based Italian pasta sauce, we are likely to describe something thick and rich, like the classic Neapolitan built on a soffrito of onion, carrot and celery and flavoured with oregano and other herbs, or an Amatriciana, flavoured with onion, cured pork and pecorino cheese, or a spicy Arrabiata made with garlic and chilli or a Puttanesca, a basic tomato sauce with added tuna, anchovies and capers. But one variation is rarely seen in Italian cookbooks is a sauce made with tomatoes and cream. This is odd as it is a sauce often found on restaurant menus or in cafes where the pasta sauces are prepared and displayed at a counter. Many would believe that cream and tomato is a taboo combination – the cream spoiling the purity of ripe tomatoes – or perhaps an abomination that is only tolerated when the quality of tomatoes is suspect. However, any doubters should consider the prevalence of cream of tomato soup or the Marie Rose sauce which brings together creamy tomatoes most successfully in a prawn cocktail or even the commercially similar Thousand Island dressing which can be found hiding under every high street burger bun. And if we need further evidence we only need to look at the combination of creamy mayonnaise and tomatoes at the heart of a BLT.
Of course the supermarkets are more interested in customer’s preferences than classic recipes and happily produce tubs of tomato and mascarponi cheese pasta sauces – in effect the same as tomato and cream. And perhaps the reason why people like the combination is because whilst a tomato is sweet it is also acid – tomatoes without sweetness retain their sourness. Tomatoes from a tin can produce a sauce which can be rather harsh and it is always best to soften with soffrito and longer cooking – or the addition of a pinch of sugar, something Italian cooks add instinctively to their tomato sauces and ragus. A quicker route to mellowness is attained with the addition of cream as this recipes demonstrates rather well.