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, Cooking Dad. Tomato Bread, you say? Count me in. How delicious-sounding, and thank you for participating. See you soon again, I hope, with more good ideas.

  1. Ivy Manning says:

    Hi Miss Margaret
    I just stumbled upon your site from a mention on Simmer Til Done. I’ve spent the last few hours going through your site finding answers to all my rookie gardening questions…too late for this my first year of gardening in earnest, but good stuff to know!
    You know those little light colored channel-shaped blemishes on the tops of your tomatoes in your picture? Mine have those too. What are they? Bug holes? Eek.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Ivy Manning. I think it’s some kind of what’s called “catfacing” from cool weather at flowering/pollination time, but not really sure. Some of the early fruits looked like that, that formed during the worst of the weather here. Not since. Glad you found me through Marilyn, whom I adore. See you soon again!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cooking for Carnivores (great name!). The golden gazpacho looks delicious, thank you, and do stop by again soon.

  2. grasshopper says:

    that was really a basic tomato sauce but really yummy though. for a differnce i will give an indianised version of the tomato chutney which is really hot but heavenly. all you need is tomatoes, garlic and red chillies dried. saute garlic and red chillies in coconut oil. if it is not available olive oil would be fine. (coconut oil gives that extra flavour). add tomatoes and saute till the oil seperates and it has become a puree. let it cool for some time blend it in a blender to make a sauce.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Grasshopper. I have never made a chutney like that; sounds great. Thank you for the inspiration for next tomato season. See you soon again!

    1. Margaret says:

      Brilliant, Jane. I must try that — and less chance of a mess if the pot bubbles over on the stovetop, which sometimes I have had happen, oops!

  3. Liz Davey says:

    Yesterday, I oven dried cherry tomatoes. I leave them plain and then keep them in a bag in the freezer. When I want to use some, I thaw them in olive oil but I don’t store them that way as it is not considered safe. I have made my tomatoe sauce; I can that. And last night we had panzanella with home grown tomatoes and basil-the essence of summer to me. And then there are the sun golds just for nibbling.

  4. Christine says:

    Do I need to be concerned about coring the Juliet tomato? This is my first year canning or doing any processing of tomatoes. Recipe for canning whole tomatoes from Put Em Up says to skin them and core them(they recommended Amish or Juliet). They are SO small! Ugh! I have 30 lbs of free Juliet tomatoes. They don’t seem to have much of a core. Was hoping that I could get away with it and make crushed tomatoes or sauce. Was also thinking of dehydrating a few since they are technically a roma…just way too small. Do you get a bitter taste from this particular variety from the seeds or peel? I have been reading about that problem about other tomatoes.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Christine. I confess: I use my tomatoes whole, even leaving skin on — sort of a very peasant, crude-style sauce. Always have. I freeze it. The “core” they are referring to is that greenish-brown touch stuff where the stem was attached. You can leave the seeds inside if you like, to can whole tomatoes. Here’s a great how-to.

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