I have to admit it has been 32 days since my last garden tomato. I sit and watch your rainbows ripening with happiness and content. I am in the rainy season and it’s the first year I have learned and fully accepted tomatoes don’t grow now. Here my tomatoes thrive the best in the dry and mild winter months when we hang around 80 degrees. Nevertheless, today’s story is about tomatoes, a love story to them really that ends in a recipe for marinara sauce.
Growing up if you offered me anything with tomatoes I was always ready and interested in the dish. All sandwiches and hamburgers were instantly better. In the summer I could even eat the tomatoes right off of the vine. I eating vine ripe tomatoes in the afternoon after they have been sunbathing all day. They are warm and sweet. Small ones burst in your mouth full of juice and bigger ones are better than apples on a humid summer day.
In college when I started to eat locally in the winter tomatoes is what I missed the most, the idea of them tantalized me and ran through my dreams as the dreary winter crunched on around me. I spent one specifically long winter day researching tomato varieties and dreaming about the purple and yellow and green tomatoes to come. That spring I planted in the community garden all the various seeds I found. I was spending the summer nearby and I can remember my first tomato and basil sandwich with abject joy. As a poor college student over productive tomato plants saved my meal more than once or twice.
By the time I had graduated my future plans had changed a lot and I was destined for North Carolina and a group house shared with a studying chef and a restaurant server. I had already been living with various cooks and restaurant folks, but it was the first time I shared a space with a chef.
I can take no credit for planting the garden in North Carolina bu when I arrived in June and it was part of the house tour I jumped in with a fervor tending the rows, nursing the pumpkin flowers and cutting back the weeds. In return I was blessed with tomatoes and more herbs than I could count.
I sat on the yellow sofa, with the ceiling fan on full power reading through the last paged of Processed, a book that gave the final push for me into homemade back to out roots. Without irony I was eating a tomato and basil sandwich, fat with a warm garden tomato and I munched it down as I turned the last few pages of the book. I remember reaching the end and thinking, now what. A crossroads had opened, one where I could either take the easy or the hard road ahead. My chef roommate came home and stretched on the no longer cream colored sofa and asked about my day. Also a reader she has suggested the book to me and we invariable discussed the themes. Unlike me she had a plan a rapidly started asking me what packaged foods remained in my diet. Honestly, I could only think of a few, peanut butter, bagels, tomato sauce. She stopped me there, perfect we will start with tomatoes!
She went on to explain almost every recipe of homemade tomato sauces calls from canned tomatoes, but she was going to teach me all the way from scratch.
Just like now, it was mid August so we grabbed a basket and went tomato picking first. On our way back to the kitchen she stopped by the side of the house for rosemary, thyme and basil. Armed with our bounty we got to work.
She first put a pot of water on the stove to heat and started to cut a tiny x on the bottom of each tomato.
Soon they had boiled a minute or two each and we could easily remove their skins. They were now whole canned tomatoes that all the recipes called for. I was astounded at the simplicity and almost kicked myself for not having learned it sooner as someone who loves tomatoes I had relied my entire life on canned tomatoes when making soup, marinara and pizza sauce.
I felt like suddenly my whole world was open and new.
I was able to create a whole new texture with my favorite food.
I’ve taught countless friends this recipe throughout the years while making pizza or pasta, and it’s notoriously easy. I was even able to make it with a second grader. The skills are ones both beginner and seasoned chefs should be comfortable using, because you never know when you need skinless tomatoes.
While I don’t have garden tomatoes today in the tropics my market is still overflowing with northern summer prosper and the tomatoes are cheap, red and delicious. It’s the perfect time for all of us to enjoy marinara sauce.
Easy Marinara Sauce
1 kg tomatoes, skins removed and mashed by squeezing in your hands.
2 T olive oil
15 g garlic, crushed
1 t salt
1/8 t pepper
2 t Italian spice blend (or equal parts oregano, thyme and rosemary)
Heat the oil in a skillet, add the crushed garlic and cook for 2 minutes until starting to brown. Add all the crushed, skinless tomatoes and stir. Mix in the salt and spices.
Cook, stirring most of the time until it has reduced some of the oil around the rim of the pan starts to look slightly orange, about 10 minutes.