Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce

Winter no reason to ignore saucy tomato

Originally appeared in the January 19, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

I know: it’s January; so why am I talking about fresh tomato sauce?  All I can offer is a not unkind shrug.  Maybe it’s some latent need for a bit of summer in the marrow of winter.  Maybe it’s just a compulsion is to avoid getting rusty in the kitchen.  Either way, it never hurts to practice the classics, and you could do worse than tinker with homemade tomato sauce.  Continue reading:Though tomatoes are often pointedly associated with the bone-structure of Italian cuisine, this delicate fruit wasn’t introduced to the aforementioned folks until the sixteenth century.  It’s actually native to Mexico and Central America; and when the Europeans got their hands on the shiny-fleshed fare, the tomatoes were yellow, hence the Italian word “pomodoro,” or golden apple.

At the market, look for plum or Roma tomatoes, and select a quality portion of Parmesan cheese.  At home, you’ll find the most labor intensive aspect of this recipe is the peeling and seeding process, but the resulting flavors will reflect something caringly homemade—or “fatto in casa.”  Sure, you could buy a serviceable jar of tomato sauce, but—like most heartfelt undertakings—it would far less fulfilling.  So let’s make a culinary compromise: store-buy the pasta, but home-make the sauce.

Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce

Serves 2 – 3

  • Approximately 10 ripe plum or Roma tomatoes, cored and scored
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for finishing at service)
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • 2 – 3 fresh basil leaves, whole (plus extra for finishing and garnishing)
  • 2 – 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 -2 ounces Parmesan cheese
  • ½ pound spaghetti

1.  Bring a pot of water to a boil (for blanching), and fill a large bowl with ice water (for shocking).  Meanwhile, pour olive oil in a large pot over low heat, along with crushed red pepper, basil, and garlic.  Allow oil to take on the aromas of this trio while you take prepped tomatoes and, using a paring or serrated knife, slice an X over the end of the tomato (the opposite side of the cored end).  Gently place tomatoes in pot and allow to blanch for 30 or 40 seconds, then, using a slotted spoon, immediately plunge in ice-cold water.  After tomatoes have cooled, use a paring knife to peel skin from tomatoes.  Slice tomatoes in half and, using your fingers, deseed them.

2.  After tomatoes have been seeded, strain contents from olive oil, return oil to pan, and add tomatoes.  Increase heat to medium; season with salt and pepper.  Cook tomatoes until soft and sauce has thickened (about a half hour).  Using a potato masher, crush sauce to a fine pulp, and gently simmer for an additional 20 – 25 minutes (smashing more along the way if needed).

3.  Meanwhile, boil pasta (time this so that the sauce and the pasta are finished at the same time) until al dente, or nearly done.  At service, heat sauce in a saucepan, add in pasta, a few cubes if butter, Parmesan cheese, some sliced basil, and re-season to taste.

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