Tomato Abundance? Make This Easy, Fresh Sauce.

How was that Gazpacho? Delicious, right? So my Gazpacho recipe caused you to go nuts at the farmers market and you bought 23 tomatoes for a recipe that only needed two, all because those tomatoes were bright, plump and colorful. You couldn’t resist. I’ve so been there. Now, what do you do with the 21 other tomatoes you bought? As delicious as they are, you can only eat so many BLTs. I totally get it.

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Sauce is a great way to use less-than-perfect tomatoes. Just cut out the bad parts.

Take those lovely tomatoes and make some sauce. Once you prepare, cook and eat fresh marinara sauce, you will never (and I mean never, ever) buy the jarred kind again. Just like the Gazpacho recipe, my homemade tomato sauce requires some prep work, but it is otherwise easy to make. As an added bonus, your kitchen smells ahhhhh-mazing.

The beauty about homemade tomato sauce is that your quantities and measurements don’t have to be exact for the flavor to be amazing. You just need to start with great tasting fresh tomatoes and you’ll be fine. So grab those 17 extra tomatoes (you’ve had at least four BLTs, right?), and let’s get sauced.

Fresh Tomato Sauce (as you read my blog and my recipes, you’ll notice I call most summer recipes “fresh,” because that’s the only way to be!)

  • 10 or more ripe red tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup of good extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed and then minced
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of dried basil

First, you gotta peel the tomatoes. I know, I know, it’s a pain, but important. Boil enough water to submerge your largest tomato in a medium sauce pan. While you’re waiting for your water to boil, take the tip of a sharp knife and cut a shallow “x” just through the skin on the bottom of each tomato. Scoring the tomatoes makes them easier to peel if you’re wondering why you need to mutilate your tomatoes before you kill them much like a serial killer.

Once the water is boiling, drop three or four tomatoes, or as many as will fit, into the water. Leave the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them aside to cool. Continue until you’ve finished with all your tomatoes.

Grab a big bowl and your sharp knife. Holding a tomato in one hand, and remember that “x” you put on each tomato? Using your sharp knife, grab a flap from the “x” between your thumb and your knife blade and gently pull the skin off. It should come right off. Cut out the core of the tomato, too. Do this over your big bowl to capture all the juices and other tomato bits. Discard the skin and squeeze the tomato in your hand to crush it slightly. Drop it in the bowl and repeat with all your tomatoes.

Once your tomatoes are peeled, crushed and juicy in your big bowl, grab a dutch oven or medium stock pot and put it over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat it up. Once the oil loosens a bit and easily swirls at the bottom of your pan, add the minced garlic. Cook over medium heat for one to two minutes or until fragrant, being careful not to burn it (burned garlic is bitter and brown – yuck!). Then dump the entire bowl of tomato goodness into your pan. Add sugar, salt and pepper, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer, and let that thing go. I usually simmer it for at least an hour, but you could go longer depending on how thick you like it. The longer you cook it, the more it will reduce and intensify the flavors. After about three hours, though, your returns diminish.

As you simmer your sauce, you’ll notice the tomatoes break down. I’ve made this sauce and left it chunky at this point, but I’ve found that most people (especially my kids) like a smoother sauce. Grab a hand-held immersion blender and blend the sauce directly in your pan to your desired consistency. If you don’t have a hand-held, let the sauce cool a bit and throw it in a blender or food processor. Return it to your cooking pan. Add the dried herbs and more salt and pepper to taste. 

Now you’re ready to ladle that sauce over whatever you want: fresh pasta, chicken parmesan, zucchini, sausage, you name it. Or you can freeze it or can it if you’re especially ambitious. Either way, you’ll have fresh tomato sauce in January, and you’ll forget all about the time it took to peel all those tomatoes.

I freeze my sauce in quart-sized bags. I ladle the sauce into two-cup portions and pour into the plastic bag. I lay it flat in the freezer, so it’s not a big frozen blob when I want to use it. To thaw it, I remove directly from the freezer, run it under hot water for about a minute, hit it against my counter to break it up, peel back the plastic bag and warm it directly in a small sauce pan. Easy, peasy, and oh, so delicious!

A note on using fresh herbs vs. dried herbs. A lot of fresh summer herbs (I’m looking at you basil and oregano) turn brown, gross and flavorless when exposed to the heat of cooking. If you’re going to eat the sauce right away, you can add fresh herbs to each plate after you’ve ladled the sauce onto whatever you’re eating. Otherwise, for flavor and appearance, it’s best to use dried herbs in this recipe.

 

 

Really, It’s About the Food

Deep down, I love food more than I probably should (hence, the extra “baby weight” I’ve been carrying around for 10+ years). Food isn’t just about sustenance for me. It’s about gathering, expressing, and connecting with other people. Food is universal. It’s communal. It’s peaceful. It’s love.

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I find solace in cooking and sharing thoughtfully prepared meals with people I hold dear. And I believe every amazing dish starts with quality ingredients. Not just any tomato will do in a scrumptious end-of-summer BLT. No, no. It must be the freshest, brightest, juiciest tomato, plucked from a vine hopefully in my backyard, but if not, a vine as close to my backyard as possible. I don’t think there is a more disappointing food experience than to bite into a sub-par tomato. Why bother?!

I loved my work with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, promoting Colorado Proud and Colorado-grown food and agricultural products. I was downright giddy when I had to drive five and a half hours across the state to the Western Slope to wander through peach orchards and vineyards, and taste the freshest produce you could imagine.

IMG_2864It’s hot and dry on the Western Slope. You get dusty, and you have to swat away gnats and flies with fury. Many people might be miserable talking about when the first frost of season will be or how many pieces of fruit you can process in a day. Or how far a particular farm’s distribution is, or which retailers and restaurants carry Colorado fruits and veggies and other products. But my heart sang…and my mouth watered. Because really, it’s always been about the food.

 

All that brings me back to the original intent of this blog. I want to share my love of food and cooking with as many like-minded people (and hopefully a few converts) as possible. Yes, I want to continue sharing my travel, home and motherhood adventures, but I really want to talk about food.

It’s late summer, so across most agriculture country in the U.S., it’s harvest season. That means an abundance of fresh, local food, and it’s my favorite time of year to eat. In celebration of eating the very best, I’m sharing one of my favorite ways to use up peak summer veggies: Fresh End-of-Summer Gazpacho. Oh my god! I would bathe in this stuff if I could.

 

My version was inspired by a recipe I first found in a Williams Sonoma catalog, or it could’ve been an e-mail. I don’t remember exactly, but it was a recipe that used all fresh veggies. There was no canned or jarred tomato juice to be found. It sounded divine, so I gave it a go. I’ve probably made it 20 times during the past three summers, and I so look forward to it when I see the first bright, plump tomatoes appear in late summer. It requires a bit of prep work, but it’s otherwise easy, peasy. Give it a go with that extra tomato sitting on your counter. For this recipe, you’ll be so glad you bothered.

Fresh End-of-Summer Gazpacho

  • 2 ripe, medium-sized tomatoes (I sometimes use heirlooms, depending on color)
  • 1 jar of roasted sweet red peppers (not fresh, I know, I know, but roasting your own peppers is tedious and so unnecessary. You won’t be able to tell if they’re fresh or not when the dish is complete)
  • 1 medium English cucumber, chopped; peeled and seeded if it’s a thick-skinned cucumber with seeds
  • 1 sweet pepper (green, red, yellow, orange, doesn’t matter what color), finely chopped
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 3 Tablespoons of Sherry vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 avocado, peeled, seeded and cubed

Cut your tomatoes in half and place the cut side on the biggest holes on a box grater (if you don’t have a box grater, go get one. Every proper home kitchen needs one. Seriously!). Place over a large bowl and grate the tomato down to the skin. The tomato skin acts as a barrier, so don’t worry about cutting yourself. Get as much of the flesh as you can and repeat with each tomato half until you have a thick bunch of tomato goodness at the bottom of your bowl. Throw in your chopped cuke, sweet pepper, red onion and Jalapeño and give it stir to mix all the ingredients together. 

Take your jar of roasted red peppers and put them in a food processor or blender (again, if you don’t have at least a blender, get thee to Bed, Bath & Beyond immediately!). Process the peppers until smooth and pour directly into the bowl with the rest of your ingredients. Stir a few more times to blend. Add the salt, vinegar and oil. Stir, and taste. Add more salt and a little pepper if you’d like. Grab a ladle and some bowls and spoons, throw on a few cubes of avocado, dive in, and do as I do…dream of a tomato bath. Enjoy!

Since I’ve made this A LOT, I’ve learned a few things along with way. It’s true, chopping the veggies sucks, so like me, you might be thinking, “I can just throw everything in the food processor or blender, hit ‘go,’ and I’m done.” Don’t do it. You will end up with a veggie mash that looks a bit like what comes up and out of a backed-up kitchen drain after you’ve made a giant salad. Both a blender and food processor tend to liquify everything, even if you’ve carefully “pulsed” your ingredients. The only things you want liquified are the tomatoes and the roasted peppers. Everything else you want in nice, bite-sized chunks. You just can’t get that with a piece of powerful, electric kitchen equipment. I’ve found that a nice, cool glass of crisp rosé makes chopping veggies much more enjoyable. Trust me on this one.

Invest in and use good Sherry vinegar in this recipe. You don’t use that much, and once you’ve had good Sherry vinegar, you’ll fine yourself using it a lot. I store my good vinegars in the fridge, so they keep a little longer anyway.

I think this gets better after a day of chilling and sitting in the fridge. But you can certainly serve it immediately. I’ve eaten a big bowl with some grilled bread for a light dinner, or you can serve it as a first course or in place of a salad along with grilled meat.

One bite, and you’ll know it’s love!