Home Headline Feature Saucy summer: Recipes for the height of tomato season

Saucy summer: Recipes for the height of tomato season

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If you want to enhance the sweetness of the tomatoes in the sauce, add sugar.

By Wolfgang Puck

Now is the time of summer when, everywhere you turn, it seems that fresh sun-ripened tomatoes are plentifully in sight. Farmers’ market stands are piled high with them, from big beefsteak tomatoes to all sizes, shapes and colors of heirloom varieties to tiny cherry tomatoes. Home gardens, too, are filled with tomato plants supported by cages or trellises and heavily weighted down with crops just begging to be picked.

So, what do you do with all those tomatoes? Of course, I’m eating them in lots of salads right now. I’m also slicing them to go in sandwiches or on top of pizzas and pureeing them coarsely for warm tomato soups and cold gazpachos. I’m using either chopped tomatoes or halved cherry varieties to cook with and garnish all kinds of main dishes. And that’s not to mention the tomatoes I chop up along with chile peppers, onions and cilantro or basil to make spicy salsas as a condiment.

Even with all those possibilities, though, there always seems to be more tomatoes than I can use right away. That’s why one of my mainstay recipes at this time of year is a basic, all-purpose homemade tomato sauce.

I like to make a big pot of this sauce, which takes just a couple of hours or so to simmer gently on the stove. Some of it I may use right away. The rest can be easily stored in small containers that provide just the right amount for an individual recipe. Some I may keep in the refrigerator to use within a few days. The rest I’ll put in the freezer, where the sauce will keep reliably well for several months, to be thawed overnight in the refrigerator or, depending on the recipe, added directly to other ingredients simmering away.

One of my favorite ways to use this kitchen staple is in my recipe for angel hair with tomato-basil-garlic sauce, which combines the basic tomato sauce with more seasonings and fresh tomatoes to make a quick, flavorful pasta that’s one of the most popular dishes in my restaurants. In the following recipe I use cherry tomatoes, which I find offer reliably satisfying sweetness and texture at any time of year. They also look beautiful on the plate. For an especially attractive presentation, look for a variety of these little bite-sized tomatoes in different colors, including golden-yellow and bright orange, as well as tiny pear shapes to complement the round ones.

So go ahead and welcome your own bumper crop of tomatoes. And get ready to enjoy the rich, sweet-savory flavor of summer sunshine.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Makes 6 to 8 cups (1.5 to 2 L)

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium red onions, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled, trimmed and smashed
  • 1 large sprig fresh oregano
  • 4 to 5 pounds sun-ripened red tomatoes
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons granulated sugar, if necessary

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, garlic and oregano and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender but not yet browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes. With a small, sharp knife, carefully cut out the stem end of each. Cut the tomatoes in halves and squeeze out the seeds into a bowl. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and set aside.

Stir the tomatoes into the pan with the onion mixture. Hold a fine-meshed sieve over the pan and pour in the seeds, letting their juices fall into the pan; discard the seeds. Reduce the heat to very low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce has thickened, 2 to 3 hours.

Using a food mill, insert its coarse disc and position the mill on top of a large mixing bowl. Taste the tomatoes and, if necessary, stir in some of the sugar to enhance their sweetness. Ladle the tomato mixture in batches into the food mill and turn the handle to puree. Discard the skins and fibers left inside the mill.

To store any sauce you aren’t using right away, ladle it into small storage containers. Let the sauce cool, and then refrigerate or freeze.

Angel Hair with Tomato-basil-garlic sauce

Serves 4

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled, trimmed and smashed
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 24 cherry tomatoes, cut in half, plus extra for garnish
  • 3 1/2 cups (875 mL) homemade tomato sauce
  • 4 small sprigs fresh basil, plus 1/4 cup (60 mL) julienned fresh basil, for garnish
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Granulated sugar, optional
  • 12 ounces (375 g) dried angel hair pasta
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, garlic, pepper flakes and cherry tomatoes. Sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and the basil sprigs. Reduce the heat. Season with salt and pepper, and add a little sugar, if necessary. Simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, tender but still slightly chewy, following the manufacturer’s suggested cooking time. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup (60 mL) of the cooking water.

Remove and discard the basil sprigs. Add the pasta to the sauce in the skillet and toss to coat, adding a little reserved cooking liquid if necessary. Add 1/2 cup (125 mL) Parmesan and toss again. Drizzle with a little olive oil and toss once more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, use tongs to lift and twirl neat mounds of pasta onto serving plates. Distribute tomatoes over and around the pasta. Garnish with more grated Parmesan and basil julienne. Serve immediately.


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