10 lbs of heirloom tomatoes on the stove, slowly transforming into sauce

My friend Debra left a message last night:

“Hi. I’ve got a cooking question. I want to make a pomodoro and I’m not sure what to do with the tomatoes. Do I blanch them first and peel them, or do I just chop them up and put them in the pan? Well, you’re not there… so I guess I’ll just have to figure it out myself. Bye!”

Fresh local tomatoes are, in my humble opinion, the greatest treasure of the summer. There are big ones, tiny ones, tart ones, sweet ones, orange and yellow and green and purple ones, some that look like teardrops and others that look like ox hearts. Perhaps, like me, you grow them yourself. I hope, unlike me, you have more than you can use and share with friends. Unlike giant zucchini, tomatoes are always a welcome gift.

Like gazpacho, a simple pasta pomodoro is a seasonal dish that highlights tomatoes at their best. Don’t do too much to this dish, and don’t make it in January. It will be utterly unlike the metallic, chemically tasting pomodoro you’ve ordered at Olive Garden. Better, even, than your favorite jar tomato sauce from Trader Joe’s.

Now back to Debra’s question — to blanch and peel or chop up — I would do neither. I prefer an even simpler method. I throw tomatoes in the blender, give them a rough puree, and set them to a simmer in a pan with olive oil and a bit of crushed garlic. You could add some chopped up tomatoes if you like chunks. I like it silkier. It’s kind of a philosophic question: How do you like your peanut butter — chunky or smooth? Note: skinny starlets and yoga students will love this dish.

Serves 2 (double for 4, etc.)

Pasta Pomodoro

1/2 lb dried pasta (I prefer spaghetti for this, but you can use your favorite dried pasta. Potato gnocchi also goes well with this preparation.)
2 large very ripe tomatoes (or 4 smaller tomatoes or a whole bunch of cherry tomatoes)
3 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive, plus extra for drizzling
5 large basil leaves
freshly grated parmesan Reggiano (not the stuff in the green tube)
tsp crushed red pepper
sea salt

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water. (Please do not waste your olive oil by putting olive oil in the water.) Add spaghetti or pasta and cook until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, puree the tomatoes in the blender for about 10 seconds, more if you want a smoother sauce. Place tomatoes in a large pan over medium heat with olive oil and crushed garlic. Salt liberally to taste. (When you taste the sauce, it should taste a bit salty… it will disperse in the noodles.)

Stack the basil leaves, roll them up tightly like a carpet and then mince tightly to create a chiffonade.

When the pasta is all dente, use tongs to transfer it directly from the pasta water into the tomato sauce, which should have thickened some. (It’s good if some of the pasta water makes it into the sauce — the starches in the water will help bind the sauce to the pasta.) Turn heat to high and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, tossing frequently, until the pasta is well covered with sauce. Remove from heat.

Plate pasta between two plates, drizzle each with a little additional olive oil, then top each with a sprinkle of sea salt, a sprinkle of crushed red pepper, some freshly grated parmesan and the basil chiffonade. Serve!

(Note: pork lovers could include a crumbled up pork sausage to the sauce while it’s cooking. Seafood lovers might add 8 or 10 anchovy filets, and reduce the salt.)

Wine suggestion: a medium bodied, Italian-style red such as sangiovese or zinfandel.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Thelma Lee
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:07:13

    Thanks! I will try this. Although I prefer sauce that is chunky (and so I tend to blanch and peel and cook them coarsely chopped, mashing them a little), the clear advantages of this method are speed and the addition of extra fiber from the peels. A fresher taste might be achieved by mixing the blended tomatoes right into the hot pasta without cooking them first. You might need to strain the blended product first to remove extra water, then add some olive oil, then add to hot pasta.


  2. scolgin
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 20:52:25

    Thanks Thelma! Yeah, it would be a different taste definitely if added the raw tomato puree to the pasta. I sometimes include olive oil in the blender puree, and then drizzle the raw puree over grilled crusty bread and sprinkle with flaky salt, basil and shaved parmesan for a spectacularly fresh bruschetta.


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