I recently found myself in between jobs and with 12 whole days off of work. I hadn’t had that much time off since I was unemployed almost 4 years ago, and I was determined to do it right. Daily workouts, long walks, sun-tanning on the roof, busting out my juicer again – you get the idea. That kept me going until about the third day, before the darker forces set in – sleeping late, starting Breaking Bad, not putting on pants, watching more Breaking Bad. Finding myself with suddenly only a few precious days left of funemployment for who knows how long, I finally remembered that I really should have been cooking all week. I tried to think of the countless recipes I’ve looked at and thought “oh, that’s the kind of thing you do when your only job is to cook and blog about it.” Hmm…
That got me going. I headed down to the farmer’s market and, finding an impressive end-of-summer bounty, bought 3 pounds of early girl tomatoes . At $1 per pound, these guys are for nothing but a fresh pasta sauce, and this is exactly the time to do it. The tomatoes are extra delicious and on sale, and it’s about to be time for stick-to-your-ribs food. So tomato sauce it was. Well, two days later, because a) there was a lot more Breaking Bad to watch and it felt like a lot of work, and b) I tend to get really domestic when I’m nervous about something coming up. Whether it’s the need to creatively use up everything in the fridge before a big trip, or cleaning my room at the very moment things feel the most disorganized. That’s how I found myself spending all night making fresh pasta sauce on the eve of starting a new job where I knew I’d be fed three meals a day. But in addition to being some kind of cathartic exercise, this was a really delicious and fun challenge.
This sauce is truly from scratch – no place to cut corners here. You have to blanch the tomatoes, peel them, then cut and seed them. You have to cook down some finely diced onions, carrots, and celery, and then simmer it all for a good hour. Then you have to run the whole thing through the immersion blender. But by going on this journey, you reach what Smitten Kitchen calls “tomato sauce nirvana.” The good thing about this recipe is that it’s effort-intensive in a blunt kind of way. It’s pretty hard to mess up. It’s also really basic, meant to be a base for any number of future recipes, from simple pasta to something baked and cheesy to eggs. Making extra and freezing it obviously a must.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen
3 pounds of early girl tomatoes (if you can find San Marzanos, I’m sure that will be amazing too)
A glug of red wine (yes, that’s the technical term)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 to 3 small cloves of garlic
1/2 medium carrot
1/2 stalk of celery
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
A cup of chopped fresh basil
The tomatoes: Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato. Blanche the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds, then either rinse under cold water or shock in an ice water bath. Now peel the tomatoes. Net, halve your tomatoes, or quarter them if they’re on the bigger side. Squeeze the seeds out over a strainer over a bowl and reserve the juices. Coarsely chop the tomatoes.
The vegetables: Finally chop the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic.
The sauce: Heat your olive oil in a large pot over meduim. Cook your onions, carrots, celery and garlic, if you’re using them, for at least 10 minutes (I did this while I was finishing up with the tomatoes, and it was more like 20). Add your tomatoes, tomato juice, and wine, and bring to a simmer, lowering the heat to medium-low. Let simmer for at least 45 minutes. If the sauce still looks a little chunky, which mine did, throw the immersion blender in it or gently blend in batches. Add in your fresh basil once the heat is off and season with salt.