Farmer's Market Fresh Tomato Sauce

Red is one of my favorite colors. If you came over to my apartment for dinner, you'd see that I have a collection of red-painted flea market chairs around the farm table. On the chocolate brown wall above my bed, I have an abstract painting of a swirling, red circus big top. I have a closet full of red Ikea flower pots, red placemats and candles.

My fascination with dragging bring red things home extended to the Grand Army Plaza farmer's market. I bought tomatoes from three different stands.

First a confession: I don't love tomatoes. I don't know if I should blame that on the under-ripe seedy, slimy and sour tomatoes we find at the grocery store for most of the year or if I blame it on tomato overload at a young age. In a patch of the backyard where the previous owners og our house had an above ground swimming pool, my parents grew Big Boy and Early Girl tomatoes.

For the past two or three summers, I've been more intersted in tomatoes. While I still skipped standard tomatoes, I found myself falling for quirky heirloom tomatoes. I'd tentatively cut into their gnarled bumps and humps, shake on some salt and pepper and slurp them up. Still, I wasn't really a tomato guy. Last Sunday, though, I couldn't help myself. There was so much red.

When I got home from the market and posted this, I realized how many tomatoes I'd bought. Too many to slice and eat in sandwiches, too many for a salad.

Sunday night, I decided I'd make a fresh tomato sauce. After looking at a few recipes, I got to work in the kitchen. It was hot and we were hungry so I wasn't up for a lot of messing around. The results of my quick work were my favorite thing I'd made in a while. Here's what I did:

I put a red Le Creuset double boiler Dutch oven on over medium heat with some Trader Joe's olive oil. I deliberately didn't add onion or garlic since I wanted full-on fresh tomato flavor.

I put a second pot of water over to boil for my angel hair pasta. I cut the cores out of three tomatoes (who really needs a corer?) , which together weighed just over a pound, with a paring knife and then chopped them up. Unlike grocery store tomatoes, these the meat of the tomato, the seeds, the juice all hung together.

When the oil was warm, I added my tomatoes and I let them cook on medium-low for about 10 minutes, adding salt and fresh cracked pepper. When the tomatoes were almost done cooking, I added about 3 springs of fresh cinnamon basil leaves, which I had carefully washed, pulled from the stems, and given a rough chop.

I decided to skip peeling the tomatoes. The biggest pieces of skin clung to the side of the pot and I picked those out as the sauce cooked down. I let the sauce cook for a few more minutes while the angel hair finished cooking. Then I put the pasta on a platter, put the sauce on top and we were ready for dinner.

The cinnamon basil went especially well with the tomatoes, as the guy who sold it to me at the farmer's market promised. I find regular basil to be overpowering: soapy, medicinal or too green tasting. The cinnamon basil is more complex, but still lighter. Unlike the lemon basil I also tested, the cinnamon basil flavor didn't ease up when cooked.

I called R* over to the kitchen island and we ate it all sitting right there. I served this angel hair with fresh tomato sauce with a side of steamed yellow squash.

"You can taste the freshness," R* said. And that's the best summary for this simple, rich red summer supper.

UPDATE: If you're looking for another summertime fresh tomato recipe, try this.


Blogger Vanessa said...

Hey - thanks for the tip on cinnamon basil - sounds great! My fav tomato pasta recipe goes something like this: cook a "chunky" pasta (penne, orecchiette, farfalle, etc.) While the pasta is cooking cut up lots of fresh farmers market tomatoes (I like the small cherry tomatoes because they seem to more consistently taste better and I read somewhere that most of the antioxidants reside in the skin and the smaller the tomato the higher the skin/interior ratio, or something like that! But mostly I use them because they look nice when halved). Chiffanade some basil. Drain the pasta well, and add the cold halved tomatoes and basil to the hot pasta. Pour some olive oil over the top and grind over some salt and pepper. So easy! And it really preserves the best of that red summer tomato taste. Thanks for the inspiration

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Mr. S said...

Why a double boiler? I'm just curious - I've never heard of doing tomato sauce this way.

Also, not adding any onions or garlic goes against everything I've ever been taught about tomato sauce, but sounds like a really nice way of playing up the flavor of the tomatoes and basil. I'm going to have to try this next time I go to the farmer's market (I was all about corn and radishes today, instead of tomatoes...)

3:43 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Mr S. strikes again. Thanks for the edit -- you're right I used a dutch oven, not a double boiler.

I agree that no garlic and onion goes against instinct when making a tomato sauce. A summer fresh sauce is different from a sauce I'd cook down from canned tomatoes, onion and garlic. Try it. I like radishes too . . . I have a post in the works about cooked radishes.

Vanessa, so with your summer sauce recipe, you don't even cook the tomatoes? Sounds good.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Mr. S said...

i hope you don't think i was being sarcastic - i thought maybe you were using a double boiler to regulate the heat and keep the sauce from getting too "cooked".

5:10 PM  
Anonymous culinary bookworm said...

Hi Chris,
I found you by way of your post at Food Blog Scool, and just wanted to say that I think your writing reads quite nicely. I love this "red" post, and the fresh tomato sauce looks delicious!

11:04 PM  
Anonymous ann said...

dang chris, thats some beautiful sauce! i'm such a literalist, i would never imagine subtracting the onion/garlic, but, call me crazy, i just might have to try it!
i love adding a touch of red wine to my tomato sauces, it adds such depth (to my pallete)
maybe once the damnable heat breaks i'll give this a go!

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Mae said...

There's nothing quite like using fresh tomatoes to make up a tasty tomato sauce like you've done here. I also love the taste of fresh basil with the tomato sauce. Sounds and looks delicious.

Red is a beautiful colour.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Chris - yup, I don't even cook those tomatoes. The hot pasta warms them a little so they reach peak red deliciousness. It’s a perfect example of a simple recipe being much more than the sum of its parts. I read that Times article too on the roasted/fresh tomato pasta and, I’m with you – who in New York has 4 to 6 hours to wait around? Also, who in New York has a kitchen big enough to stand keeping the oven on for 4-6 hours in the summer!? I found your blog on Food S’chool too, thanks for posting. Been meaning to post at Food S’chool looking for fellow NYC/Brooklyn food bloggers for fun and moral support… feeling slightly ashamed that SF/Seattle/Portland seem to have a better “scene” than us. Is that because they have bigger kitchens? ;-)

11:06 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Vanessa, I'm really interested in a bigger food blog scene here in Brooklyn as well. What do you have in mind? How can we gather everyone up?

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely blog. I'm lucky enough to work in an organic vegetable garden. I have hour in which to pick, cook and eat lunch. This my teams favourite tomato sauce recipe: baking tray worth of tomatoes cut in half, four to six cloves of garlic, bottom bits chopped off, skins left on. Olive oil, oregano (smack fresh herbs between hands to release oils), sea salt, a very small sprig of rosemary. All this mingles together on the tray, all the tomatoes must be skin side up. Roast under the grill for about 20 minutes or until the skins start to turn brown. Once this happens tip the whole thing into a pot and blend (i've got one of those hand-held jobs) skins and all. Add basil, perhaps a pinch of stock cube, boil the pasta. That's it 30 minutes taste of heaven, can easily be freezed so you can make it batches. The roasted tomatoes taste so sweet and the roasted garlic has a subtle nutty taste as the skins have stopped it from burning.

1:56 PM  

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