Step 47: Vogue.

October 5, 2009

Two years ago my husband and I tried to grow tomatoes on the windowsill of our apartment. We bought a cherry tomato plant in late spring and watered it, sang it lullabies, and generally loved it to pieces. Come mid-summer, we saw little blossoms! How exciting! Our baby was having a baby! But then only like three of the blossoms became tomatoes. And a bird ate one. So, after a whole summer of devotion, we had two wee tiny cherry tomatoes. It was so sad. So, I don't garden. Yet. But, if I did, I would plant loads of plum tomato plants to make sauce. It tastes so summery and delicious, and since my recipe can go in the freezer, you can take it out in January and remember that there is a time when the sun shines more that 5 hours a day.

So, as per my usual summer ritual, I bought a giant basket of yellow plum tomatoes. You could totally do this recipe with regular red plum tomatoes. The key is more that they are VERY ripe. There are about a badillion different ways to make sauce, but I think Lidia Bastianich, an Italian grandmother-y type who has a great show on PBS, does a damn fine job of it. Plus she's so thorough with her instructions, if you screw up you only have yourself to blame. This recipe is more or less based on hers.

Summer Tomato Sauce
Makes 3 quarts of sauce

8 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
3 onions, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
5 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
a bunch of basil (about 8-10 sprigs), including stems

Ooh, you think you're ready to cook! Ha! First you have to do the hard part - preparing the tomatoes!

Preparing tomatoes
Set a large pot of water to boil.

Make an ice bath in a large bowl by combining two trays of ice cubes and cold water. Next to that set a colander.

Using a slotted spoon or a spider, set about 8-9 tomatoes in the boiling water for about a minute. Take them out using the spoon or spider, and put them in the ice water to stop the cooking. Once they are cool, put them in the colander to make room for the next batch. Repeat with all of the tomatoes.

Once all your tomatoes are in the colander, prepare two more large bowls. In the first one, set a fine mesh wire strainer.

Working over the bowl with a strainer in it, take one blanched tomato at a time. Remove the skin with either your fingers or the aid of a paring knife. (I think it's easier to just use my paws.) Drop the skin in the strainer. Squeeze the tomato so the juices and seeds fall into the strainer. (You will end up squirting yourself in the eye many times.) Drop the whole tomato into the other bowl. Repeat for 8 pounds worth of tomatoes.

Take a rubber spatula and press the skins and seeds into strainer to extract as much juice as possible. (Sometimes the juice gets stuck up there with all the skins, and you might have to do this partway through the process as well.) Reserve all the juice, and discard the skins and seeds.

Sauce, continued

Okay, back to making sauce.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sturdy dutch oven. Cook the onions until translucent, trying not to let them brown, about 7 minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt. Turn the heat down if it seems like they are cooking too fast.

Clear a little space in the onions, and add the minced garlic and hot pepper flakes directly onto the bottom of the pot. Let them cook for about a minute, then stir into the onions. If things are starting to stick a bit, add a couple of tablespoons of water to loosen things up, scraping the bottom with a rubber spatula.

Add all the tomatoes and juice. Rinse your tomato bowl with about a cup of water, and then toss that into the soup pot too. Add the remaining teaspoon of salt and stir everything together. Put your basil sprigs, stems and all, into pot.

Cover, and let it come to a boil. Turn it down to low (so it is just simmering), and keep it covered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Your tomatoes should be beginning to break down at this point.

Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, for about an hour, or until it becomes as thick as you like it. Continue to stir occasionally. Once it's gotten to a thickness you're happy with, turn off the heat and pull out the basil sprigs. (You don't have to worry about every little leaf, but no one wants to eat an entire basil stem.) Sometimes I use my handheld blender to make it a little smoother, but that's up to you.

Eat what you want now, and store the rest in the freezer for using mid-winter. Don't try to can this sauce - you have to have the correct pH balance to can tomatoes to make sure you don't get botulism.