I rescued a box of tomatoes a few weeks ago, but Saturday, I had to rescue them again. Sadly, I had been inadvertently holding them captive in our (hot) garage, on top of the recycle bin.
I know! This is not exactly the best foot to come forward on after my absence from this site for so long, but I had the best intentions.
Really, I did!
There was a pile of them. The tomatoes that is, not the intentions. They (the tomatoes) were red, plump and waiting to become sauce.
They were begging to become sauce!
At least I think that’s what they were saying to me, each morning as I passed by them to get into my car, or as I lifted them away to open up the lid of the bin they were blocking. It was hard to know for sure but, what else would they be asking me to do?
Yes, surely it was sauce they were hoping to become.
Soon, there was a liquid oozing out from within their little nest. I barely noticed at first, due to the mountain scene that was printed on the side of their otherwise white box. What looked completely normal on Monday, became more pronounced by Wednesday. The line weight seemed to be a little thicker, I remember thinking.
It wasn’t until Thursday that I realized the line weight of the mountains were now bleeding into and darkening their sky. It wasn’t from the original graphic but, in fact, was an add-on from the tomato artists working hard from within their confines.
Friday came and I knew I was neglecting them, but still, I had more important things to do, leaving no more time yet to make sauce.
I know, you probably don’t understand. What could possibly be more important than transforming the beautifully aging summer tomatoes into sauce? Not just any sauce, but the sauce they had waited their whole lives to become, right?
I did though, neglect them, and of that I am not proud.
I am proud today. Of those fabulous tomatoes, this scrumptious sauce and my decision to finally get my priorities in order!
Sort of like our friends, Piotr and Inna. They are finally tying the knot this week, today actually! Yes Piotr, I said knot, not noose). I mean, they have only been dating now for 8 1/2 short years.
They (Piotr & Inna) prefer vodka to wine so, hey guys, if you make this sauce, by all means, skip the wine and go for the vodka. Stir in a little cream and a happy marriage that will make!
My sauce started out as quick sauce, like the one that Alex Delany character was chatting about for “Rent Week” recently. I had more than 4 tomatoes though and somehow, roasting them just seemed like the right thing to do. For me. No offense Alex. I know none will be taken.
You can make as much or as little as you have tomatoes. I hadn’t bought the Farm, as Alex suggested one could, but I did have a very large box which I heaved onto the counter.
First order of business was picking through it, rinsing off each tomato, quickly cutting a small knife around the top to remove their cores and plopping them, one by one, onto a sheet pan.
Occasionally, I would come upon a tomato that had expired but not before adding its’ imprint onto the ever evolving mountain scene of previously mentioned box. Sadly, I have no photos of their work but luckily, there were more sauce maker’s than artists in the bunch; I was able to salvage many more than I had to throw out.
Once the tomatoes are all hanging out on the pans, take your bottle of olive oil and drizzle it liberally over the whole lot. Do the same with your balsamic vinegar but use a less heavy hand. I like to put my finger partially over the opening to give it better control.
Now grab a healthy scoop of Kosher salt in your fingers and scatter it, fairly evenly, over each pan; you needn’t be too careful, by this time, hopefully you have a little skip in your step and your movements are fluid.
Do the same with your pepper mill and then grab a few heads of garlic. After removing the cloves from their skin, kind of tuck them into the tomatoes randomly. You might have enough for each one but no worries if a few of them miss out on a poke.
Next come the herbs. Whatever you have in the garden will work just fine, especially if it is oregano and basil. A little rosemary is also nice. Thyme, tarragon, summer savory, what have you. Clean them off and just toss them over. Adding a dash of dried oregano adds another layer and you might like to sprinkle on some red chili flakes too. Your choice.
Pop them into a preheated 350-degree oven and let the magic begin. Soon you will be having thoughts of sitting at a table in the dark corner of your favorite bistro in Italy, candle light, chianti and music or overlooking the olive trees in Italy.
The smells will permeate the whole house as if an Italian opera is singing wildly from the oven. No matter your mood, these smells will only help make it better. I can hear my bother’s Mother-In-Law, Doris, singing now….
The beautiful thing here is that you can just let them cook as you go about your business such as planning your next trip to Italy perhaps?
After an hour or so, they will become slightly colored. This is a good thing.
There will be a pool of juices surrounding them and steam might hit your face lovingly as you open the oven door. Yes, they are having a day at the hot springs. They are enjoying their spa. But as with all things good, less is sometimes more. It might be time to turn down the heat or even turn off the oven all together. Your choice.
If you are going to be home and keep checking in on them, perhaps let the flavors grow more aromatic at 200-degrees. If you want to leave, turn the oven off and let them rest there as it cools down. There is no right or wrong here. Just don’t let them burn.
Once they have been removed from the oven and are cool enough to handle, you can do one of two things (well I am sure there are more than one or two things you can do but…).
Either put them in a food processor (in batches), or, as I did, put them in a large pot and puree them with an emulsion blender.
Now here is the tricky part, on my end. It needn’t be tricky for you, I might add.
Either way, you can quit right here, after adjusting of salt, pepper and chili flakes, or, you can continue on the sauce making journey, as I did. I decided that I wanted them to have a little bit more complexity.
I like to add carrots and red wine to my sauce. Since I didn’t roast any carrots with the tomatoes, as an after-thought, I decided to braise some carrots in the oven in the current state of tomato sauce and an addition of red wine (are you listening Piotr and Inna? Insert “substitute vodka here“).
If you decide to humor me and follow my lead, simply take a small oven-proof vessel, add some peeled carrots (say 8-10 oz worth), top them with a few ladles of tomato sauce and then cover them over with red wine (uh hmm…or vodka). Pop them in the oven (which has been pre-heated to, oh, say, 350-degrees) and let them braise until tender. You might need to add a little more liquid….or not. They don’t even have to be that tender, if we are being honest but just tender enough. This could take another hour or it could take less. Again, your choice. See how flexible I am?
Now, again with the choices, you can either put the carrots and their sauce, into the bit pot of sauce and emulsify more. Or, add it to a food processor, and puree. I chose the latter of the two options because, well, I didn’t feel like I had adequately messed up the kitchen yet.
Now, by this time, you could truly call it quits, for real this time. Or, you can turn on the stove and let your sauce come to a simmer and add a little more wine (or vodka + cream). You know what I did, I’m sure. I let it simmer for about an hour, just because.
With my box of tomatoes (there must have been 8-10 lbs), I was able to yield 25 cups of sauce.