Eating Red

Baskets of Tomatoes by S RowandYesterday’s tomato harvest from the lower garden was rather healthy – with the biggest tomato weighing in at more than a pound (from one of the “German Tree” plants grown from seeds purchased from Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds). So from now on – for the rest of the summer until the fall – there probably will be (I hope!) a pot of tomatoes simmering on the stove almost constantly. Whatever tomatoes I have harvested that day goes into the pot: German Tree, Flame, Roma, San Marzano, Super Sweet 100, Early Girl, Big Beef, German, Celebrity … in the pot. Right NOW. I know, I know some cultivars were bred specifically for sauce or canning (the Roma types), being more meaty and less seedy. But I just use whatever I harvest: I have over 70 plants and the tomatoes are coming fast, so they need to processed fast.

I put them in a big pot with just a little water, bring it to boil and then simmer. After a while – which depends on what else I am doing – I will process them through the manual food mill to separate the seed and skin from the pulp. I decide then if I have time to make sauce by simmering a few hours longer with a chopped onions, some minced garlic and herbs, or if puree is good enough. And then they are canned. They’ll be used in the colder months to make the slow-cooking dishes of winter: lasagna, spaghetti a la Bolognese, puttanesca sauce, meat balls in red sauce & sunny stews. And simple red pizzas – albeit not slow-cooked, a good pizza from scratch is a dish worth opening a good bottle for.

Freezing works too, except the freezer is getting rather full already.

As far as eating them now: tomato sandwiches, gazpacho, tomato salad in its many many many incarnations are now a staple at the table.

And still, once in while, I’ll make a pot of Fresh Simmered Tomato Sauce that will not be frozen. The sauce will keep for a week or so in the fridge and can be used for pasta and pizza (grilled if you please, I am not using the oven in this heat!). Easy to prepare, it’s a nice sauce to make on a day you are home – maybe coming back from the farmers’ market with a load of tomatoes. While it takes a several hours to make the sauce, the active time is not that great. You can start the sauce and the onions in the morning after picking your tomatoes and let it cook for several hours. If you are not around, turn the heat off, and when you are back, turn the heat back on. The only special utensil you need is a food mill to remove the seeds and the skins.

Fresh Simmered Tomato Sauce

  • 5 lb tomatoes, the freshest and ripest you can get
  • 1 large sprig each of fresh thyme, rosemary & summer savory
  • 2 bay leave
  • A little water (1/4 cup or less depending on your pan shape)
  • 3 Tablespoons oil
  • 2 large yellow onions
  • Salt (several pinches – to YOUR taste)
  • 5 clove garlic, de-germed (if needed) & minced
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 1 handful of basil leaves
  • A few sprigs of flat leaf parsley

Wash and roughly chop the tomatoes. Put them in a large heavy bottomed non-reactive pan with the thyme, the rosemary, the savory, the bay, and a little water over medium heat, stirring occasionally while the tomatoes release their juice, to ensure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan (Adjust heat down if necessary). Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer uncovered on VERY LOW for several hours. At least two. Three better.

Wait for it to cool enough to handle and then pass through a food mill to remove seeds and skins.

Meanwhile, peel, halve and slice the onions very thinly. Heat up a large heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat (do not use non-stick – it does not do the job for this task), add the oil, then the onions. Salt the onions to help them release their juice. Keep on medium heat for 10 minutes or so, stirring the onions as needed so they do not brown but only change color. Add more oil if needed. Lower heat, add the garlic & thyme leaves, and cook onions for another 15 minutes siring occasionally. The onions should be soft and translucent. You can do this ahead too: just heat back when ready to continue.

Add the puree tomatoes to the onions. Bring to a slow boil, reduce heat, and simmer for another 2 hours (3 better). 30 minutes before the end, finely chop parsley and basil and add to the pot.

For A Really Good Spaghetti Sauce: heat up two tablespoons of oil in a large cast iron pan, add ½ pound of ground beef, and use a wood or metal spatula to break down the meat in small chunks. Add ½ ground venison and do the same. Keep the heat high to medium high and cook until the meat is well brown, almost crispy. Lower heat, add two finely minced garlic cloves and a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves. Add Freshly Simmered Tomato Sauce, and simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Salt to taste. The scent of this sauce will drive everybody nuts – especially any male between the age of 14 and 74. Make lots of spaghetti – they will be eaten.

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