This summer, for the first time in ages, I have been successful in growing a garden-full of tomatoes, and I find myself in the same delicious “dilemma” as those other lucky people who have a bounty of red, ripe fragrant fruit hanging from the vines. What to do with all those tomatoes!
Actually, there’s lots to do, as I’ve discovered. After a few lunches of fresh slices, slightly salted and set on a mayonnaise-slathered slice of hearty white bread, and after some days worth of a salad of chopped tomatoes cloaked with some fabulous olive oil, I still have plenty of tomatoes.
So I made sauce.
Fresh tomato sauce tastes quite unlike the sauces made lovingly in the cold weather with canned tomatoes that you cook for hours until it’s thick and rib-sticking and hearty enough to make us all feel warm and secure. It’s a much more simple creation. Fresh tomato sauce is light, refreshing, and blessedly quick. It is also easy to cook. It’s a delicate dish, in harmony with the hot weather.
The easiest version is simply this: sauté chopped tomatoes in a bit of fragrant olive oil until the pulp is soft, about 15 minutes. This is fine for pasta or as a salsa for grilled meat, poultry, or fish.
But you can go beyond that, for example, and add onions, garlic, and a scattering of chopped fresh herbs, notably basil, thyme, oregano, or marjoram.
You can make it more elaborate by including some fresh or soaked dried mushrooms (add them with the onion). Or, for a smoky flavor, crisp up some beef bacon (I use Facon) and use some of the rendered fat with the olive oil. If you like your food with a bit of heat, add a chopped chili pepper (or some crushed dried red pepper) to the sauce.
Of course the beauty of fresh tomato sauce is its simplicity, but you can create at will and add cream or other vegetables such as eggplant or zucchini. One of my favorite variations is Puttanesca Sauce, which includes olives, capers, and anchovies.
If you don’t have a garden, all these sauce versions will be splendid using summer tomatoes from your local farmer’s market and even the supermarket (if your local store has some sweet, tomatoe-y smelling stock). Any tomato variety will do. Plum tomatoes are usually suggested because they are drier, but frankly, they also aren’t as tasty. Use what you have! You can peel the tomatoes (instructions are in the recipe), but it isn’t necessary. You can remove the seeds or not! Serve the sauce bulky, or puree the ingredients with a stick blender, right in the pot.
Here’s another bonus: you can freeze the sauce for up to two months (I use 1-1/2 cup plastic containers and leave 1/4-inch space at the top).
Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein, Instagram @ RonnieVFein.