I look forward to the burst of tomatoes on the vines towards the end of summer, but it can be overwhelming if you don’t don’t have a game plan.
My first strategy for managing the tomato crop is to always pick some early and use to make fried green tomatoes, green salsa or green tomato bisque. This is a delicious way to lighten the vines and leave room for the remainder of the tomatoes to ripen comfortably.
The next part of my tomato strategy consists of picking and sorting every day, if possible. I set aside the more ripened fruit for sauce and the more firm tomatoes for salad, bruschetta and sandwiches. The great thing about using the bulk of your tomatoes for sauce is that you can savor the flavor summer year round and have extra for friends and family.
Sunday sauce can bit a bit of work but is enjoyable when working as a team. Friends, family, even co-workers can make this a relaxing and delicious exercise.
I have seen sauce made so many ways and some include capers, olives and anchovies and other condiments. But the basic steps of blanching, peeling and crushing the tomatoes, making a sofrito with your favorite aromatics, then adding your favorite herbs and other condiments, are the foundation for a great sauce.
During summer months I use fresh herbs and in the winter I use the dried version. Sometimes I like it chunky but when I want a thicker sauce that will evenly coat the pasta, I use an immersion blender. Regardless of the type of tomatoes you use or whether you use fresh or dry herbs, the most important steps are in the sofritto and in the adequate seasoning, including salt, pepper, chili flakes and the very best olive oil.
If you don’t have our own recipe, this is the perfect time to honor this great tradition and ask your mother, grandmother, aunt or neighbor for their recipe. Someday you may be handing this recipe to the next generation and sharing the love of sauce, family and tradition!
Pick or buy 5 lbs of fresh, ripe tomatoes.
Fill a large pot with water and boil the water. Drop the tomatoes in and cook for 5 minutes. Reserve the water in the pot to thin out your sauce later or to cook something else. Scoop the tomatoes out and place in large bowl. Then cover with plastic and allow the skin to shrivel and the tomatoes to cool to make it easier for peeling.
Core the tomatoes, peel them and crush them in a food mill or with your hands and set aside.
The Sofritto — In a heavy, large pot, add 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/2 cup of chopped celery, 1/2 cup of chopped onion, 1/2 cup of chopped carrot and 1/2 cup of chopped, red bell pepper. Heat the olive oil and the aromatics and cook until caramelized, adding garlic at the end — so as not to burn. Then add the tomato mixture to the aromatics and cook for 1 hour until it begins to thicken. Then add your favorite chopped herbs such as fresh basil and oregano. I like it a bit spicy so I had red pepper flakes and salt to taste. You may need more salt than you think so continue to taste throughout the cooking process—another half hour. Some people like to add sugar but I find that mine is sufficiently sweet from using very ripe tomatoes along with the carrot and onion, which are sweet. Allow to cool for another hour before tasting again and then use your immersion blender if you want the sauce to be smooth. Otherwise, leave it chunky. Then prepare to can your sauce for yourself or for beautiful gifts tied with lovely ribbons.