The last gasp of summer is upon us – or maybe it’s already gasped and left. That was fast.
Still, I’ve had my way with tomatoes this summer, Fellow FoodBeest. Heritage. Plum. Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Locavore. Even some grown here in pots on our very own urban “plantation.”
I found (and of course adapted) a recipe for a very simple pasta sauce from another food blogger that I really admire, SmittenKitchen. It’s written by a food lover with a toddler, a husband and a tiny kitchen in a Manhattan apartment. She calls this naked tomato sauce but to me it is just the simplest essence of summer. Like sunshowers and rainbows. Or freckles. Or flimsy flowered sundresses. Sigh. I miss them already.
Since it was still very warm and comfortable grilling weather, I grilled the tomatoes before doing anything else to them. It not only made it easy for me to take the skins off easily, it gave the sauce a hint of smoke.
It’s a perfectly wonderful summer sauce for fresh pasta or for anything else that loves tomatoes (I used the leftovers on waffled eggplant). The truth was we couldn’t get enough of it.
What It Takes to Make Summer’s Best Tomato Sauce
3 lbs plum tomatoes
(I used half heritage plum tomatoes from the Farmers Market and half organic plum tomatoes from Whole Foods – but only because I didn’t buy enough at the Farmers Market in the first place)
3/4 t coarse Kosher salt
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Small handful basil leaves, most left whole, a few slivered for garnish
1/4 C olive oil
1 or 2 T unsalted butter (optional)
How to Make Summer’s Best Tomato Sauce
It’s best (but not critical) that you start this about an hour before dinner.
I grilled the tomatoes whole. It took about 7 minutes before the skins were charred and blistered. Our barbeque has gas on one side and charcoal on the other. The charcoal would have absolutely enhanced the flavor, but I was lazy and just turned on the gas side. If you can’t grill them, your alternative to remove the skins is to cut an “X” in the skin of each tomato and parboil them for about 30 seconds in boiling water.
I took them off the grill, put them on a cookie sheet, and brought them back into the kitchen. Once the tomatoes cool you can easily slip those charred skins off them. Then, if you need to, you can cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise (they’ll be pretty squishy) and scoop out the seeds with your fingertips into a small strainer set over a bowl. You want to keep those juices and toss the seeds.
Add tomatoes and salt to a saucepan big enough for you to ultimately toss the cooked pasta into. Turn the heat to medium-high until it begins to boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook the tomatoes for about a half-hour.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. While the tomato sauce cooked, I combined garlic, a few whole basil leaves, a pinch of red pepper flakes and ¼-cup olive oil in a small saucepan. I heated them verrry slowly, over the lowest heat (you don’t want to fry anything here) so that it takes a long time to come to a simmer. Once it does, immediately remove it from the heat and strain the oil into a small dish.
When a half-hour has passed, you can put the partially cooked tomatoes into a food processor or blender and gently break them down. Having uneven chunks here is a good thing. Return the sauce to the pot, add the strained tomato juice to keep it moist and simmer it for another 15 minutes.
Bring a big pot of water to a boil with plenty of salt. As soon as it was boiling rapidly, I cooked my fresh fettucine (yes, it was store-bought) until it was just this side of al dente. I reserved a half-cup of the pasta cooking water and drained the rest.
I stirred the reserved olive oil – now infused with garlic, basil and chillis – into the sauce and adjusted the seasonings to taste. I added more salt. I mixed the drained fettuccine into the simmering tomato sauce along with half the reserved pasta water and cooked them together for just another minute or two. You have to decide if you think the sauce is too thick. If you do, you can add the remaining pasta water. Otherwise discard it.
If you are using the butter, stir it in now (it does make the sauce richer, Fellow FoodBeest, and I’m not telling if you’re not), and serve immediately with slivered basil for garnish.
Serves 4 (if you want to share)
I wouldn’t change a thing.
Now it’s your turn, Fellow FoodBeest. Add a comment to this post. What will you miss about summer?