A collection of seasonal recipes and stories

summer tomato sauce, two ways

In the past ten days I’ve purchased nearly twenty pounds of tomatoes, and I have every intention of continuing the insanity right up until the farmers run out of tomatoes to sell me.  You see, we had a long, cold winter, and I’m not just saying that because any winter would have seemed long and cold to a girl who’d recently moved from southeastern Virginia to northern Michigan — I’m saying that because it was still snowing in May.

So it seemed like those luscious orbs of sweet, juicy, vine-ripened summer freshness would never arrive to replace the barely-worth-it hydroponic greenhouse tomatoes that had characterized June and July.  And then suddenly, there they were — real tomatoes, spilling out of baskets onto tables throughout the farmers market.

I’m not taking them for granted.

I’m making sauce.  Lots and lots and lots of sauce.  Which is time consuming, but not at all difficult. 

I like to roast the tomatoes, which deepens their flavor and concentrates their sweetness, and which also means that most of the aforementioned time consumed can easily be spent sipping wine on the deck (if, you know, you’re into that sort of thing). 

First though, you have to core the tomatoes and scoop their guts out.  But what you don’t want to do is discard those guts.  According to this August’s issue of Cook’s Illustrated, “the seeds and jelly contain three times the amount of flavor-enhancing glutamic acid as the flesh.”  Three times!

So unless you are some type of flavor-hater, you should smush the jelly through a strainer and collect all that glutamic goodness in a bowl to save for later.

Admittedly, I’m a bit obsessed with the saving of things for later, as evidenced by the sauce-making itself.  But when it’s ten degrees below zero in January and still snowing in April I can reach into the freezer and pull out a jar of intensely tasty summer sweetness to pour over our pasta.

Of course, it would be silly to spend the next few weeks roasting tomatoes without actually eating any of them, and some days it’s just too hot to run a 400° oven for hours on end.  Plus, at this point in the year logging beach time is just as important as hoarding summer produce.  Which I’m pretty sure is why fresh tomato sauce was invented.  

The epitome of simplicity, it requires little beyond a mere ten minutes of chopping. It tastes damn good and is exactly the sort of thing you want to eat at the end of a long, hot summer day.  I adore this sauce with its fresh seasonal flavors, and I’d make it once a week if I could convince Chris, who never met a meal he didn’t want to microwave, not to nuke the freshness right out of it.

Summer Tomato Sauce, Fast & Fresh
from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
(serves 2)

1 c. cored, chopped tomatoes*
1 T. olive oil
1 t. balsamic vinegar
1 clove of garlic, smashed
4 T. basil, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mash with a fork.  Let rest at room temperature for an hour or so.  Remove the garlic before tossing the sauce with warm pasta.  Leftover sauce makes for lovely bruschetta.

*Bittman actually suggests that you peel and seed the tomatoes, and this does make for a nicer sauce, but not nice enough that I ever go to the trouble.

Summer Tomato Sauce, Slow & Roasted
(makes about 2 pints)

5 lb. tomatoes (I like to use a mixture of heirloom and paste tomatoes for complexity)
4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 T. dried basil
2 t. dried marjoram or oregano
1 T. coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 t. pepper
¼ c. + 1 T. olive oil

1) Preheat your over to 400°F and line a large baking pan with foil. (you may need more than one pan)

2) Place a strainer or colander over a large saucepan.  Core the tomatoes and use your finger to scoop the guts out into the strainer.  As you core each tomato, place it in the foil-lined pan.  I also like to squeeze as much tomato as possible from the core into the strainer.

3) Nestle the garlic cloves inside the tomatoes, sprinkle them with the herbs and salt & pepper, then drizzle with ¼ c. olive oil.  Roast the tomatoes in the oven for 2-3 hours, or until they begin to brown.

3) Meanwhile, use the back of a wooden spoon to press the jelly and juice of the tomatoes through the strainer into a large saucepan.  Add 1 T. olive oil to the tomato juice and bring to a boil.  Simmer until reduced by about half, 30-45 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

4) Remove the roasted tomatoes from the oven and allow to cool slightly.  Dump the tomatoes, garlic, and any accumulated juices into a blender or food processor and purée.  If you’re using a food processor, you may want to do this in smaller batches so that the liquid doesn’t seep out as it whirls around in the bowl.

5) Stir the roasted tomato purée into tomato juice reduction.  Serve immediately, or freeze.*

*This sauce is absolutely not suitable for canning! It can be safely frozen, but contains far too much olive oil for canning.  I freeze mine in wide-mouth mason jars (you can’t freeze the regular ones) but a ziploc bag would work fine too.

5 responses

  1. Thank you for that summery blast of tomato goodness. Our tomatoes have been really tasty this year, but we haven’t had as many of them as we’d hoped–they got off to a real slow start this year. We’re making up for lost time, and there are about a half dozen fat yellow tomatoes on the kitchen counter as I write this.

    Those pictures are beautiful!

    September 9, 2008 at 9:52 pm

  2. Bubbles

    Do you roast the tomatoes at 400 for two to three hours? It sounds so hot for so long.

    Do you also can tomatoes? My mom and I always canned whole, chopped, and juiced tomatoes. I’m not sure I’ll ever do it again without her – well, at least for a couple more years. Maybe when one of my kids wants to try.

    September 9, 2008 at 11:07 pm

  3. Nice story on MFK Fisher and gazpacho:

    http://weekendamerica.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/07/19/wolf/

    Mmmmmmmm…..gazpacho….

    September 15, 2008 at 7:45 pm

  4. Megan

    Bubs – As I may have mentioned, my garden was attacked by a band of marauding deer, and the tomatoes were the only casualty. They were also the only thing I had been really really stoked about. Fuck and alas.

    Bubbles – I really do roast the tomatoes that long and that hot. As long as the day itself isn’t too hot, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. Haven’t worked up the nerve to can anything, although a co-worker lent me her canner to try and I’m planning to pick up. . .wait for it. . .more tomatoes at the farmers market this weekend and give it a go.

    Vikki – I’m ashamed to admit that I have never read any MFK Fisher, but I picked up a copy of The Gastronomical Me the other day based on your recommendation. I very much enjoyed the foreword and the first essay, but then got distracted by Marcella Hazan’s forthcoming memoir. Back to MFKF today. . .

    September 16, 2008 at 2:07 pm

  5. Looks tasty. Can you Chris do that crazy walk he does wile carrying the tomatoes in from the car?

    September 16, 2008 at 7:27 pm

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