Tomato Cravings: Make Real Tomato Sauce
It begins with an itchy, tickly craving to get the first fully ripe, rich, sweet and juicy tomato at the farmers’ market.
Grocery stores may be full of perfect red orbs year round, but the real tomato season starts when tomatoes grown in naturally enriched soils are picked from the vine by hand when fully ripe. The first bite is so satisfying enhanced with just a sprinkle of salt. Then you add a drizzle of olive oil, a bit of torn basil or soft, fresh mozzarella—the result is moaningly good!
As the season progresses to piles of backyard tomatoes and roadside stands, sometimes even the grocery stores catch on. We are surrounded by scrumptious, mouthwatering stacks of odd red, yellow, green-striped, orange, convoluted, large, tiny, pear-shaped and teardrop tomatoes, an abundance of variants and flavors.
Then the season spirals out of control and we are drowning in tomatoes by the case, covering kitchen counters and getting softer and softer by the hour. To refrigerate a tomato is to kill its flavor and texture. At temperatures below 55°, tomatoes become mealy and tasteless. After a couple of days on the counter they start disintegrating. Meanwhile, just how many fresh tomatoes can one family consume?
It is time to make real tomato sauce, a concentration of passion and sunshine. All those rows of bottled and canned pasta sauce in the stores are only mass produced variants of plain tomato sauce and have the dual handicaps of industrial production and chemical enhancement. To get down to the reason for this story … you can make better tomato sauce than you can buy.
Follow along with two basic sauces. First there’s Sugo Fresco Di Pomodoro, produced with a minimum of cooking time resulting in a fresh and delicate tomato flavor. The second recipe for Triple Seared Tomato Sauce, requires some kitchen alchemy: pouring the sauce back and forth between skillets. This sauce is the sassy sister with added caramelized tomato flavor and a generous hit of toasted garlic.
I make these sauces all summer as the tomatoes arrive, and more furiously in the late season, storing them away in Ziploc bags or freezer containers for use all winter. It’s like capturing the sun and satisfies my tomato itch—until the next fresh season.
Of course, you can boil up a pound of pasta al dente (which means your teeth can get a good grip on it without a hard core). Drain the pasta well, then add the hot sauce. Toss and serve sprinkled with a generous grating of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano.
Otherwise, serve the sauce with slices of chewy bread as a dip or spread it on toasted bread bruschetta style with a slice of soft mozzarella. Use it as a sauce over roast chicken or sautéed mushrooms, zucchini and eggplant. Thinking eggplant Parmesan? Making pizza? You've got the sauce.
Red wine, mushrooms, roasted red pepper, black olive, Italian sausage, truffle ... Mama Mia! All those variations on the big market shelves are just a matter of adding a small amount of something else to the mix. Just add a bit of whatever and create your own. And, if you want a smoother sauce, put it in the blender or food processor.
Chef Molly Beverly is a food activist, teacher, caterer, food coach, chair of Slow Food Prescott and former chef of Crossroads Cafe in Prescott.