For nearly 30 years I have made regular pilgrimages to Le Bistrot du Paradou, where Mireille and Jean-Louis Pons held court, offering us incomparable local Provençal fare, from lamb to rabbit, garlicky aioli and tender roast chicken. Vegetable dishes are honored here, including golden slices of eggplant, always offset by this thick and shimmering tomates concassées, a thick tomato accompaniment glistening with the local oil from the cooperative in Maussane-les-Alpilles, studded with cubes of ruby tomatoes, bits of onion and fresh leaves of basil. Years ago I asked Mireille for the recipe, and she offered that off season she used canned tomatoes and in season usually a blend of fresh and canned. I spent endless hours attempting to recreate the sauce, never achieving any of the elegance of Mireille’s triumph. Mireille and Jean-Louis are no longer a presence in this always lively bistrot, but on my last visit longtime chef Vincent revealed the simplicity of the recipe: Canned diced tomatoes cooked long and slow, embellished with nothing more than the best olive oil, a touch of salt, onions, and basil. Success at last! The aroma that fills the kitchen as the fragrant olive oil hits the warm, thick sauce is worth the effort all on its own. In our house, a favorite use is as a topping for freshly toasted homemade multigrain sourdough bread.
One 28-ounce (765 g) can diced tomatoes in juice (do not drain)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
A small handful fresh basil leaves, chopped if large
In a large saucepan, combine the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the oil, the onion, salt, and basil. Stir to blend. Simmer, uncovered, over lowest possible heat, until most of the liquid has cooked away and the sauce is thick, 40 to 45 minutes. Stir regularly to prevent the sauce from sticking to the pan. Taste for seasoning. While still warm, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Use as a vegetable garnish or as a sauce for pastas or pizzas. (Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
2 cups (500 ml) sauce