making quick tomato sauce, ever so slowly

chopped tomatoes for making sauceI AM CULTIVATING PATIENCE, THANKS TO MY TROUBLED TOMATOES, learning to wait between sadly small outbursts of red fruit. Even my quick red sauce—normally made in hasty batches that overflow two spaghetti pots at a time—is an exercise in restraint, more meditation than mass production. Once a staple I never thought twice about, this year the tomato seems like treasure, and I am treating each little harvest as such: chopping finer (above), simmering longer, taking time to thicken each batch, filling the house with what precious tomato vapor the forces of nature allowed. Grateful for what there is, I’m savoring every drop—especially today for Tomato Week, the final installment of our cross-blog Summer Fest 2009.

summerfest badgeEven though I followed the rules (started seed carefully, then tended the plants correctly) things went wrong, and then wronger. You remember; many of you have suffered alongside me. Happily, my Summer Fest collaborators (mostly in areas where the harvest’s been better than here) have tomato stories of their own:

Matt Armendariz of Mattbites does tomatoes 10 ways. Really.

Paige Orloff of The Sister Project with tomato-carrot soup.

Marilyn Naron of Simmer Till Done with upside-down tomato-basil bread.

Shauna Ahern of Gluten Free Girl with sliced tomatoes and smoked-tomato salsa.

Diane and Todd of White on Rice Couple with tomato jam recipes.

Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen on Caprese salad with basil vinaigrette.

misshapen tomatoes
This year’s crop proves that nobody’s perfect (though everybody’s beautiful in his own way; that’s me, front right, above). I’ve got every shape and misshape of tomato going, and they’re all going into the pot.

My basic sauce is really basic: Lots of whole sautéed garlic cloves in a puddle of olive oil, quartered plum tomatoes (or chopped if time allows, as it does this year) with skins and seeds and all, plus basil and parsley. Like I said, I usually really rush this. Simmer covered till the ingredients are thoroughly cooked, then remove the lid to let the sauce thicken while bubbling on low a little longer. A timer reminds me to stir every 15 minutes throughout.

frozen sauce
Some years, after the desired 40 or so containers of sauce are in the freezer, there are still lots of tomatoes left (those tubs are from last year’s haul, above; I only have seven containers so far for 2009). My tactics for such past years of plenty (or for a glut of green tomatoes):

  • Pickles and Mincemeat: Giving up and pulling your plants, green fruit and all? Pickle any unblemished ones with the same Refrigerator Pickles recipe I use for cucumbers (or peppers). Or turn them into Green Tomato Mincemeat for pies, also good as a chutney.
  • All-Purpose Tomato Junk: Blessed with a bumper crop, and can’t cook them fast enough? Freeze them whole in freezer bags for saucing another time, or make Tomato Junk (and use it later as the base for soups or stews).
  • Another Martha Memory: When the tomatoes are dead-ripe and the herbs are plentiful, why even cook anything but the spaghetti? One of Martha’s most charming (and literally handmade) recipes ever was the one she dubbed “Spaghetti No-Knife,” where you make a “sauce” of torn-up tomatoes, basil and oregano; smash a few garlic cloves, and toss it all (raw) in olive oil, with hot red-pepper flakes, salt and pepper. To serve, simply boil up spaghetti, toss with the tomato mixture, and tear off small pieces of fresh mozzarella as a final ingredient. The precise recipe is on Martha’s site here, but you get the idea. Finger food.

Happy harvest to you, for better or for worse.

summerfest badgeSo now it’s your turn: Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? Starting with our posts of Tuesday, July 28, for four Tuesdays through today, you can contribute in various ways, big or small. Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. The possibilities:

Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.

The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and some pretty great dialog starts simmering.

Or think bigger: Publish entire posts of your own, if you wish, and grab the juicy Summer Fest 2009 tomato badge (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites).


  • Tuesday, July 28: HERBS. Any and all; I did parsley, and readers added everything else.
  • Tuesday, August 4: FRUITS FROM TREES (also known as stone fruits, but we won’t scream if you toss in a berry or another fruit, promise). My entry was a peach clafoutis.
  • Tuesday, August 11: BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK (either or both, your choice). My entry was here.
  • Tuesday, August 18: TOMATO WEEK. How do you like them love apples?

And in case I forget what week it is, won’t somebody remind me on Twitter? Thanks. We’ll be talking it up there, too.

That’s how a Summer Fest works (and the way that Food Fest 2008 worked, too, remember?).

  1. Vermont Laura says:

    Having grown tomatoes for 40+ years, I’ve become a bit spoiled by the promise of my husband’s salsa every September evening as well as a well-stocked pantry of tomato treasures to raid on cold winter days. This year we were low on canned tomatoes so we started and planted 42 plants, about 1/4 of them (Biltmore) dedicated to canning, while the rest were to star in wonderful September lunches and dinners. However, we were hit by Late Blight and have lost our crop, having had to bag the plants to limit their air-borne dangers. Sort of like the economy, eh? People learning to live with less, treasure what we do have (loving those cukes), and–hopefully–cultivate gratitude for the bountiful harvests we’ve enjoyed in the past. And yes, hope for a better crop next year!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Vermont Laura. Yes, it is the year of the “hundred-year event” (economically, meteorologically, agriculturally). Ugh. One thing I have in mind is using winter squash as a pasta sauce on alternate occasions; I know that sounds weird, but it is great with macaroni (think of pumpkin ravioli, yum) and just olive oil and butter and sage. I plan to score some big ‘Blue Hubbard’ types at the farm market with that in mind. Alternate ways to eat macaroni: that’s my goal, as I parse out my little harvest. I am sorry to hear about your total loss, which is more the norm around here, too. I wonder if my raised beds that had just been renovated with lots of compost and other organics helped here a little with the hybrid plant at least? See you soon.

      Welcome, Kelsey. So glad to have roasted tomato ideas; something I never do (though I roast everything else from the garden), and keep meaning to. See you soon again, I hope, and thank you.

  2. Mmm, I love homemade tomato sauce. My favorite tomato recipe is sooooo simple. Slow-roasted tomatoes. Sometimes I add them to pesto, sometimes I eat them w/ mozzarella and drizzled with olive oil and basil. Other times I add them to pasta as a “sauce” because the flavor is so intense! I also bake them w/ zucchini. Happy Summer Fest!



  3. Paige Orloff says:

    I may never make sauce, at the rate my poor tomatoes are (not) producing. What I pick, I eat (often in my special chilled tomato soup) at this rate, but I can hope that I’ll be able to freeze a few tastes of summer to get me through the depths of winter–in this, as in so many things, you are my inspiration!

  4. Margaret says:

    Welcome, Sandy B. I will have to go look for a recipe for Million Dollar relish…thanks for the tip, and hope to see you soon again.

  5. Wendy Erickson says:

    Report from North Jersey…woe is the tomato this summer…My roma tomatoes showed promise, but keep falling off… ‘Sweet 100’ in pots are doing okay, but look skinny. Good news: the ‘Carbon’ and ‘Mikado’ heirlooms I grew from seed look pretty happy- big but just not quite ripe yet – maybe another two days. Not enough heat and too much rain, and no breezes to circulate air. The local farmer’s market is Thursday so I hope they have had better luck!

  6. Wendy Erickson says:

    Oh BTW, The only tomato in my entire yard that looks super healthy and has green nice fruit, no rot or fungus on it is…the hybrid one I bought at Lowes and hung upside down in the front yard in one of those tomato bags…unbelievable!

  7. Deborah Mele says:

    Ah, I can certainly relate to your tomato issues. It has become too hot here in Umbria and with little water our tomatoes are drying up on the vines. Luckily I can buy GREAT tomatoes inexpensively at our many local farmer’s markets.

    My hands down favorite pasta sauce in the summer is this no cook one that when mixed with hot pasta just explodes with flavor. http://tinyurl.com/o4tafh

    And we all love our salads in the summer especially when gorgeous tomatoes are everywhere! Here is my easy Heirloom Tomato Salad With Goat Cheese Crumbles at http://tinyurl.com/qj9nbb


  8. 1916home.net says:

    Here in Southern California, I grew most of my 50 tomato plants from seeds and I still got blight! Five or six plants I think it was. I couldnt stomach the thought of ripping out those plants as they were bearing fruit, so I do a LOT of pruning and trimming of those plants. They have finally come back and look very healthy. I know I was supposed to rip them out and burn them or whatever, but, well…. man these tomatoes are good! I also had end rot affecting 4 plants. No much I did there but trim them, prune them and make sure I do a better job of watering. I also cut back on the natural fertilizer too and have used very little since. I have 48 plants now, all giving me about 15 pounds of tomatoes a week! Im canning some, giving some to neighbors and plan to make some sundried tomatoes too. Ultimately, since the economy sucks, I will be giving tomato sauce to all as Christmas gifts. Never been a fan of the gift giving and this is a lot more personal and from the heart. ~Dave :)

  9. Lisabeth Davis says:

    After a warm April, I hoped we might have enough warmth this summer to grow tomatoes. The garden has lots of plants, few blossoms and cooling temps make any harvest unlikely altho we have covered a few plants with a frost blanket. It was 41 yesterday morning and 37 a week ago. Daytime highs are still in the 80’s but I think this is cabbage country.

  10. Iris Shreve Garrott says:

    Oh! the tomatoes. We have lost a lot to rot and fungus but have been able to salvage enough by picking at the first hint of redness and then letting them ripen on the shaded deck.

    This Tomato Pie from Simply Recipes is on my list for the weekend… “Think pizza meets cheesy bread and they make-out in a pie crust.” Oh. My. Yum.


  11. Marilyn says:

    Oh, I like “really basic” sauce – all that smashed garlic, the best kind. Also intriguing me is Green Tomato Mincemeat – I’d forgotten it could bake into pies. Tomatoes really are the gift that keeps on giving, aren’t they? Thanks, Margaret, for a whole summer of great Fest ideas.

  12. Andrea Walllick says:

    Margaret, try a little – 1/4 cup white wine in your sauce. Adds a wonderful flavor, just cook it off.
    My NJ beefsteaks were getting gorgeous, then blight the dust. There are new babies on the top, I wonder what the future has in store for them.
    Suggestion, truffle oil, sel de mer and any fresh herb with sliced tomato.
    Lastly, Margaret, you are the best! Crazy bout ya;-)

  13. Margaret says:

    Welcome, Faith. I LOVE that The Kitchn joined us for Tomato Week with a dozen tomato ideas. Thank you. And thanks for sharing my parsley-storage post there recently as well. Much appreciated. See you soon again I hope.

    Welcome, Lisabeth. Did you say 37 and 41? Oh, my. Scary business. Guess you need some Siberian tomatoes. Hope to see you soon again, cabbages and all. :)

    Hi, Andrea. Thanks for the sweet words, and nice to see you. I usually put balsamic or red wine in my lentil soup (which is tomato-based) but will try some white in sauce.

    Welcome, Darya, with your tricks of safe transport. I am heading over to have a look now…as soon as I say hello to…

    Welcome, Anita. Sounds like my kind of recipe. What could go wrong with those ingredients? See you soon.

  14. Dave Pidcock says:

    I normally only have about 8 tomato plants (Includes 2 cherry plants) but this year I ended up with 13 (Long story). BUT, in spite of the fact that my soil is perhaps the best it’s been in 48 years, and I have a scheduled watering and fertilizing schedule, I have yet to pick my first off the vine tomato – ????? It’s been a very strange year here in Great Falls, Montana – I cannot understand it. LOADS of tomatoes on the plants, but NOTHING is ripening. ???? A very strange year. No doubt any day now (Unless we get a very early freeze), I’ll be inundated with tomatoes. I have no explanation whatsoever as to the delay – ?????

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