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Monday, September 15, 2008

15-Minute Tomato Sauce. Really.


I make this simple tomato sauce throughout the summer when we feel like a light dinner.  It's so simple I didn't even think to blog about it, until David brought it up last week.  It's too easy, I told him.  That's why you should do it, he said.  It's simple but fantastic.  Plus, he liked the little trick I do with the tomato pulp, keeping it fresh while reducing the juices to a proper thickness for the sauce.  I should definitely blog this, he insisted.

Well, ok, then.  Coming from chef himself, who's to argue.  So here it is messieurs-dames, my super easy tomato sauce you can do in less then fifteen minutes, and with no special tools except a knife, a pot, a pan, and your own handy hands.  No fancy ingredients either, but for delicious tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, oh, yes, and a bit of garlic if you like that kind of thing.  Really.  It is that easy.  I usually start the sauce just as I begin to get the pasta ready, and they both are done at just about the same time.

The little trick David mentioned is the way I separate the tomato pulp from the juice after it's cooked for just a minute or so.  I do it because I love the flavor of fresh, in-season tomatoes, but I hate the watery texture of most fresh tomato sauce.  Often, by the time the tomato is cooked down to the proper sauce consistency, it loses that fresh, zingy bite of fresh tomatoes.  So I imported a little trick I do when I make jam--which I learnt from Our Lady of Confitures Christine Ferber in her fantastic jam book.  I let the tomato pulp cook very quickly in the pan, just until it releases the juices, then I fish out the meaty pulp with a slotted spoon, then let the juices cook down to the consistency I like, then add the pulp back in and season.  This way I get a lovely, thick sauce with a super fresh tomato flavor.  Nice, yeah?

Pim's super quick and fantastic tomato sauce

I usually make this quantity for the two of us when we are ravenously hungry, but it's actually quite enough for four if you also serve other foods at the table.  When we are not so ravenous, this usually make two good portions for dinner, with a smaller portion I can keep for lunch or a midnight snack.

about 2lbs or almost a kilo of fresh tomatoes
a clove or two of garlic, or none at all
about 1/4 cup of olive oil, you can use less or barely any at all
salt to taste
about a half tablespoon of balsamic or sherry vinegar
a few turns of the pepper mill

enough pasta for about four servings (about 8-10oz)


With a sharp knife, make a cross mark at the bottom of each tomato.  By the time you're done the water should be hot enough.  Plunge them into a pot of hot water and let sit for just a minute or so, until you can see the skin come a little loose at the cross mark.  Remove the tomatoes from the hot water and give them a quick rinse in cold water.  You can leave the hot water in the pot if you want to make pasta to go with your sauce.  (In which case bring it back to a boil, add a big handful of salt, then add your dried pasta of choice.  In the ten or so minutes your pasta will take to cook your sauce should be ready too.)


With a small knife, peel the skin from the tomatoes.  It should come off very easily.  With the tip of a knife, cut around each green crown and remove it.  Discard the crown and the skin.  Squeeze the tomatoes into the sink to release excess juice and push out the seeds.  Put the tomato pulp in a bowl, crushing roughly with your hands to break it up into small chunks.  You'll have a few seeds remaining, which is no big deal.  Frankly, Ferran and Heston said that's where most of the umami flavor in tomato is anyway.  So I wouldn't worry about it if I were you.


In a large saute pan, add a bit of olive oil and chopped garlic (optional).  Add the tomato pulp into the pan.  Add a big pinch of salt.


Let cook for about a minute or two, until you can see the pulp breaking down and releasing the juices.  Use a slotted spoon to pick up the pulp and put it into a bowl, leaving the juice in the pan.


Cook down the watery juice until thick, for another couple minutes.  Check the seasoning.  If your tomatoes are not very tasty you can cheat by adding a bit of balsamic or sherry vinegar and a bit more salt.  You can even add a bit of red pepper flakes if you want a kick.  Once the sauce is thick enough--that means if you scrape the bottom of the pan you leave a mark (see picture), you're ready. 


Add the pulp you removed earlier back into the pan.  Stir to mix well.  Turn the heat off and check the seasoning again.  You might need a bit more salt or vinegar.  If you're like me, you'll add another glug of good olive oil in it for some freshness too.


There you have it.  Tomato sauce in fifteen minutes.  I especially love the combination of the hefty texture, the intense flavor, with the freshness from the barely cooked tomato pulp adding a lovely zing to the whole thing.


If you're doing the pasta thing.  Drain the cooked pasta and throw the whole thing into the pan with the tomato sauce.  Toss everything around a bit to mix well, taste it to see if you need a bit more salt or pepper, or a bit of vinegar even.  Turn off the heat.  Throw in a handful of basil leafs.  At this point I like to again pour a tiny bit of fresh olive oil over everything for even more zing.  (What can I say, I have the metabolism of a hummingbird.  You don't have to.)

You can also put the sauce in a jar and keep it in the fridge for a few days.  Don't ask me how many days, I wouldn't know, I usually finish it in a day or two at the most.  Besides the pasta, you can also use this sauce for homemade pizza--I did this at the pizza party a couple weeks ago.  You can also just spoon this--cold out of the fridge--on top of a slice of toasted crusty bread.

*Incidentally, this is the perfect thing to do with late season tomatoes right now.  As summer departs and fall sets in, we're getting a bit of rain.  Wet soil is resulting in not so intense, somewhat watery tomatoes.  My little trick comes in very handy in this case.  Try it, you'll love it.


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