Tag Archives: tomatoes

Title_Image_TomatoSauce

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.

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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
Small onion
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.

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Homecoming

I went home to LA for my mom’s birthday and as usual, my Bay Area culinary tendencies went straight out the window. Being raised on Southern Cooking is a hard, hard thing to walk away from. And why would you? There is a place in the world for kale slaw and a place in the world for vegetables cooked into oblivion with bacon and butter. I live with one leg in both of these places and plan to keep it that way.

One of my favorite coming home stories involves the fact that every time I fly down, my mom’s mac and cheese is always sitting on the stove waiting for me that night. Without fail. One night I asked my mom why she always made this particular dish for me on my first night home, and she said, “Well, because you usually get in after dinner so I know you just want something light.” Mac and Cheese. Something light. Did I mention she’s from New Orleans?

So it comes as no surprise that when our neighbors showed up with home-grown tomatoes, we found some unripe ones and decided to immediately fry them in fabulous ways. Fried Green Tomatoes. Coincidentally (or just completely not surprisingly) we had also been frying up some bacon, so we decided to fry the tomatoes in…wait for it… BACON GREASE. Yeah, I did.

These beautiful green babies are great on their own, or as the star of the best BLT you’ve ever had in your life. Best served with a glass of home-made sweet iced tea.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Sliced green (unripe) tomatoes
One beaten egg in a bowl
Cornmeal, or a mixture of cornmeal and breadcrumbs, in a bowl or shallow dish
All-purpose flour in another bowl or shallow dish
Salt and pepper
Some creole seasoning or season salt
Canola oil or bacon grease

Add salt, pepper, and seasonings to  taste to your breadcrumb bowl and mix, lining up next to your flour and egg bowls. Dredge tomatoes lightly in your flour bowl, and then dip in the beaten egg until coated. Transfer to your breadcrumb mixture until thoroughly battered, and shake off excess crumbs. Tip: Dip into the dry ingredients with one hand and the wet ingredients with the other – this keeps things a lot less messy!

Heat oil in a pan until nice and hot. Place tomatoes in pan until browned on one side, 2-3 minutes. Flip until the other side is also a delicious golden brown, and transfer onto a plate lined with paper towels or a paper bag.