Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On Being a Tomato Groupie

Last time we talked about pizza,  and the time before about family secret recipes, and it got me thinking about what other honors could be given to a tomato.  Red sauce is a coveted secret in the kitchen of every Italian grandmother, right?  And not being Italian, I had to get mine off the TV.  That's okay, it still kicks butt!

Being a "Groupie"
I'm a big fan of Anthony Bourdain.  For those of you who aren't, he's an author-turned-television chef.  If you've never read Kitchen Confidential, get it.  Read it.  You can even find it at the public library.  Fantastic look behind the scenes of fine dining establishments, in quite the irreverent vein.  There's an awesome passage where he describes tasting his first oyster at the age of 9, comparing it to... well, I won't give it away.  But I bring this up because I've learned a lot from both watching his television show and reading his cookbook.  Yes, actually reading his cookbook.  You'll both learn, and laugh your butt off, through the whole thing.  The couple of pages he has on making stock are alone worth the cost of the book.

Why am I bringing it up?  Because watching his show is how I learned to make red sauce.  Granted, I've tweaked it along the way.  It's the go-to recipe that I can make by heart using a grand total of about 4 brain cells.  Here's what I do:
Photo via Travel Channel


  • 4 cups diced Roma tomatoes, either fresh (blanched and peeled) or home-canned
  • 1/3 cup decent olive oil
  • 1 large sprig fresh basil
  • 2 large sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (more or less to taste)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • healthy dash red pepper
  • salt & pepper to taste (but don't use much)

  1. Steep the herbs in the olive oil over gentle heat for 10-15 minutes, then strain and discard the herbs.
  2. Add the garlic,  and tomatoes to the oil, mash with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the consistency is a thick sauce.  Add the butter and stir until melted.  Ta da!
  3. If you're using it with pasta (okay, yes that's a blinding flash of the obvious), let the noodles cook their last minute or two in the sauce along with 1/2 cup of pasta water.  You want to aerate the noodles while they cook in the sauce.

Photo via Epicurious

So, let's take a look at some other types of tomato-based sauces.  Marinara is a classic.  One of my family's favorite recipes is this one for chicken in an herby French sauce made from cherry tomatoes. This Provencal chicken stew has a beautiful tomato sauce as well.  Yes, even the humble Sloppy Joe should have a beautiful, rich tomato sauce.  Of course, the most glorious use for tomatoes (after, of course, deep dish pizza) is my Nirvana:  cioppino.  (Let me know if you ever go to San Francisco, I know the greatest place!)
Photo via The Old Clam House

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