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. Margaret says:

    Welcome, Dave. That was the case here last year…lots of fruit, but very late crops. Of course it’s all the weather (when fruit was set, how temps and such and sunshine has been since…) but SO frustrating. Be ready with those protective old sheets and blankets, I guess, just in case. We usually get nipped and then have a couple of more good weeks if you cover stuff here.

    Welcome, Lia. I am the queen of avocado…any meal, even breakfast…so this one’s perfect for me, thank you. And yes, food as food, exactly. See you soon again I hope.

  2. Nancy says:

    Blight has finally caught up with my tomatoes, so I may not get past the eaten-fresh stage of tomato harvest this year, but hopefully I’ll have enough fruit to try new recipes with. Also started all mine from seeds and thought I was doing pretty well, but interestingly, the one totally healthy plant in my garden right now is one that seeded itself from last’s years fallen fruit. I wonder if there’s anything to that? Maybe I’ll try some direct seeding on purpose next year.

  3. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    GAZPACHO SOUP….1 cup finely chopped peeled tomatoes,…1/2 cup finely chopped green peppers,…1/2 cup finely chopped celery,…1/2 cup finely chopped cucumber,…1/4 cup finely chopped onion,…1/2 teaspoon Worcestshire sauce,…2 teaspoons chopped parsley,…1/4 teaspoon ground pepper,…2 teaspoons chopped chives,…1 teaspoon salt,…2-3 tablespoons wine vinegar,…2 tablespoons oil, and 2 cups of tomato juice. COMBINE all ingredients in a bowl, chill at least 4 hours, or over night, and if you wish, serve with a dollop of sour cream. My next door neighbor is from Spain, and she said it is the best she has had in America. She said the Gazpacho is what the people in Spain feed “field hands” to cool them off, after working hard outdoors.

  4. Diane says:

    My grandmother’s recipe is still a favorite of mine – blackened tomatoes. Slice tomatoes and fry on high heat in butter until slightly blackened – eat with buttered bread. Heaven! I haven’t had a tremendous amount of fruit this year either -3 plants are Brandy boy and one Brandywine. I had a lot of cat faced tomatoes this year but they were still yummy!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Diane. That is a new one on me,a nd sounds wonderful. Thank you. And butter (like tomato) is one of my favorite foods. :) See you soon.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Liz, and thank you for the idea of what to do with he cherries my own otherwise dead-looking plant is producing. What a year of oddities. Hope to see you soon again.

  5. My Sweet 100’s cherry tomatoes, which have been abundant in years past, are pathetic this year. One at a time… really.

    I was at our local farmers’ market this weekend and took pictures of all of the strange varieties of tomatoes. Here.

  6. chris says:

    my 9 tomato plants went from the looking like tom wolfe’s x-ray women who lunch to some reasonable facsimile of tomato plants over the last three days of sun and heat…will start tasting soon and hope for the best

  7. Lisa @celebrate CREATIVITY says:

    Your opening photo of those chopped tomatoes looks delicious.

    Nice to read through the comments to also see what others are doing with tomato crops.

  8. joey says:

    What a wonderful coincidence! I just finished a series of tomato salads on my blog so I can join in on the summer festivities! Here are my 3 favorite tomato salads:

    Glad to celebrate tomatoes with you all! :) Love you tips for a bumper crop…and how I’d love to have all that homemade sauce in my freezer for future tomato meals!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Joey. The salads look delicious, thank you. Sometimes you can buy “seconds” at the farmstand or green market in late summer and make up batches of sauce pretty economically, just cutting out any soft bits. It’s what I do when I don’t have a good apple crop: buy the “drops” from the nearby farm. Not perfect, but plenty good. See you soon again.

  9. Catherine says:

    thank you so much for posting the photo of your tomatoes….makes me feel less sad. We’re having Tomato Communion at church this Sunday but I’m afraid my Mortgage Lifters and Brandywines are too embarrassed to participate.
    Lived in Chicago for years so I’m quite used to saying, “Wait til next year”

  10. chigal says:

    Thanks for the recipe! I try something very similar sometimes, but it hasn’t always turned out. It’s the little twists and turns along the way that seem to make all the difference (as with gardening). Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  11. Jennah says:

    Well I’m late to the party. Here’s my recipe for a quick and delicious standard tomato sauce: http://jennahsgarden.wordpress.com/2009/08/09/csa-week-5-even-star-farms-tour/

    I’ve since altered it to make it even better, though. Instead of just chopping them, cut off the tops and throw them in a pot of boiling water until the skin starts to peel. Then toss them in ice water. Squeeze the tomatoes out of the skin and puree. Then add the spices etc as in the post. Absolutely delicious and SO SO easy. One pot takes maybe 5-10 mins of prep work depending on the size (seriously!). I already have a ton frozen for dreary winter days.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jennah. I am a skins-on girl but you are right: Boiling water makes the tomatoes shed their skins pretty easily. Thank you for the reminder. See you soon again, I hope.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Kristina. Seems like that will be a very useful tip for many of us, thank you. Glad to have you join us for the final installment…and hope to see you soon again, Summer Fest or no.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Gillian. Glad you felt comfortable enough to show it off here. I love farro, so this sounds delicious to me…all those ancient grains are my kind of food. See you soon again I hope.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Kelly. I could go for the “explosion of tomato-ey goodness in your mouth.” Sounds delightful; I have never roasted the fruits for a Caprese first, so thank you. Hope we see you soon again.

  12. Michelle @ www.porktopurslane.com says:

    I love to make an Heirloom Tomato Salad with Watermelon Sorbet and Pickled Watermelon Rind! The recipe and a photograph can be found here.

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