For summer-food-lovers, it’s all about the TOMATO. Believe it or not, we here in the 24/680 have not yet reached our peak of season for the best part of summer! We are beginning to enjoy the warmer weather; which will continue until late September, and means our local crops and personal collections are just now starting to come to the market and table.
One of my favorite summer recipes is a simple tomato sauce, made with tomatoes, basil, thyme, garlic, olive oil and salt. Heirloom tomatoes make great sauce, but can be expensive. If you want to use heirlooms, never buy retail. I recommend going to your local, neighborhood farmer’s market, at the end of of the market day, and ask the tomato vendors for any heirlooms that are bruised, split or over-ripe – those they couldn’t sell to customers. They are usually set aside and can be purchased for 50% or more less than retail. They aren’t pretty, but make great sauce!
I’m suggesting the use of the “Early Girl” tomato which is just now coming to market. Available at farmer’s markets or better markets. According to Specialty Produce: “The globe-shaped Early Girl is an early season tomato, usually around the size of a tennis ball at full maturity. Bright red, smooth-skinned and slightly flattened in shape, the Early Girl tomato is meaty and can be quite sweet and concentrated in flavor. Early Girl tomatoes are popular for the flavor they impart and their early season appearance. These bright red tomatoes are often dry-farmed, meaning the plant is cut off after early irrigation and the roots are left to stress and struggle to reach water and the result is what some call the IDEAL tomato. Early Girl tomatoes are considered ‘slicing’ tomatoes, and make great additions to sandwiches, bagels and quartered on salads. The sweet flavor makes for a wonderful soup or sauce, though preparations that require minimal cooking are more ideal for highlighting the early-season tomato’s flavor. Leave tomatoes at room temperature; refrigerating can alter the flavor and creates a mealy texture.”
Storing Tomatoes: Please, never refrigerate tomatoes! Refrigeration can make tomatoes dry, dull tasting and mealy. Instead, store in a cool, dry spot on the counter and try to use within a few days of purchase. Most farm fresh tomatoes (with natural covering from nature) will keep on the counter for about a week.
Notes to remember when making tomato sauce:
1.) No need to peel the tomatoes. Most of the flavor and nutrition is found in the skins. Use them whole and then pass through a fine-mesh strainer. Best to use a small 2-ounce ladle to press the solids through the strainer.
2.) Season with salt to balance the acidity of the tomatoes – not sugar!
3.) Use a stainless-interior pan to cook the tomatoes, not aluminum or cast-iron, as the acids in the tomatoes will react with the metals and your sauce will have a metallic taste!
Nutrition: Tomatoes are an excellent source vitamin C, biotin, molybdenum and vitamin K. They are also a very good source of copper, potassium, manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin B6, folate, niacin, vitamin E and phosphorus. They are a major source of antioxidants, including lypocene, which is linked to lowering the risk of cancer, heart disease and deteriorating eyesight.
If you want to taste the best tomatoes in the world, travel with us to Tuscany in 2019!
Photo: Tuscan Bruschetta enjoyed near San Gimignano, Italy
Early Girl Tomato Sauce
2 pounds Early Girl tomatoes (washed and stems removed)
3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 small branch basil
1 small sprig thyme
1 large pinch salt
1 small pinch black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
• Place all ingredients in a stockpot with a lid. Place pot over low heat. Cook for 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Halfway through cooking, remove lid and continue to simmer slowly.
• Remove bay leaf; process the mixture in a blender, and then pass through a fine mesh strainer. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
• Serve with your favorite pasta or gnocchi garnished with fresh shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and fresh basil.
• This sauce also freezes well for future use.
Serves 2 quarts