It’s been a dry summer in Southern Virginia on the Chesapeake. Irrigation ponds are down four feet or more and many farmers have let row crops slide to take care of their livestocks’ drinking needs. On a personal – and far less significant – level, this means that Ellis and Paul won’t be picking up crates of late season tomatoes on their Sunday drives home from the Northern Neck.
My husband Jason has mixed emotions about this. On one hand, it means no frantic Tuesday nights spend blanching, peeling and seeding a couple hundred tomatoes before they go bad. On the other, it threatens a winter freezer free of quart after quart of tomato sauce, preserving the fresh, bright taste of late summer tomatoes and licorice-y basil.
I blame Jason’s conflicted feelings on Andrew Carmellini. His cookbook, Urban Italian, contains a fresh sauce recipe so perfect that we haven’t changed a thing. It may be the one recipe I have never tweaked, not even a little. Lots of fresh tomatoes, cooked quickly and seasoned with basil and garlic-infused olive oil create a bright, sweet and spicy sauce, as easy and non-complex on your palate as it is to cook in 45 minutes per batch.
In Ellis and Paul’s stead, I’m reaching out to Dan at Agora Farms, who can hook me up with the best tomatoes grown in Lancaster County, PA. Dan, we’re going to be needing tomatoes. And lots of them!
Summer Fresh Tomato Sauce
You can use plum tomatoes, like Romas or San Marzanos, for a richer sauce. I don’t even bother to peel and seed them. They will release a lot less water, so take less out and keep a close eye on them.
- 12 fresh beefsteak type tomatoes*
- 1 head garlic, top chopped to expose cloves
- 1 cup packed basil leaves
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 1/4 cups olive oil – the good stuff!**
*Three fresh tomatoes and a pound of pasta will make a hearty meal for four people. Don’t worry about being too exact on the infused oil proportions, just make a little less and add it to taste.
**I’ll be using the spicy Sicilian oil from Sapore.
- To peel tomatoes, cut an “X” in the skin at the base and blanch them in boiling water until the skin wrinkles and cracks – 30 seconds to 1 minute. Shock the tomatoes in ice water. The skins will slide off easily. Return the water to a boil between batches.
- To seed tomatoes, cut in half and squeeze them over the sink, watch for seed explosions that will cover the walls of your kitchen. Laugh richly and keep going.
- Chop tomatoes roughly and place in a large, shallow stock pot over medium heat. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt.
- Cook tomatoes until soft and bright red, about 45 minutes.
- Remove liquid while cooking. A total of about 2-3 cups. You want the sauce to remain wet and liquid, but not soupy. Save some of the tomato water in case you take too much out early on.
- While tomatoes cook, place garlic, basil, pepper flakes and olive oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until basil begins to crackle and pop. Remove from heat and let the flavors infuse the oil for twenty-ish minutes.
- Strain oil into tomatoes. Cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Blend with masher or immersion blender.
- Will freeze through the winter. (If you don’t eat it all immediately!)