“Putting up” with tomatoes (city version)


Tomatoes are the crown jewels of the late summer garden and usher in the changing seasons as they turn from bright red juicy soft bombs to mealy light pink solid orbs.  A sad moment it is when fresh tomato season comes to an abrupt halt and it will be another 11 months till the next “real” BLT.  I won’t deny that I am completely envious of Meg and her country/garden life.  No huge crops to deal with here in the city, but I do preserve a few things from the farmer’s market as the days grow shorter.

My Grandmother grew many varieties of tomatoes in her garden.  We didn’t call them “heirloom” at that time, but they came in many different shades of red, yellow and green.  Grandma would simply slice them and eat them with a sprinkling of sugar.  I still think Mid-western tomatoes are the best.  One of the few perks to come out of 100 degree temperatures and high humidity.  Italian tomatoes are a different breed altogether.  In northern and central Italy the tomatoes are usually green, tart and used in salads and the riper red ones used for cooking.  The Mediterranean climate and the mountains in most regions of Italy never quite get the heat needed for big red juicy varieties.  The small plum tomato from San Marzano is the exception and has become a great export for southern Italy.  Canned tomatoes have become an essential part of the post new world Italian pantry.  I have a few favorite brands but nothing compares to making your own sauce with fresh ripe tomatoes.

While tomatoes are at their peak I buy up a bunch of the broken, overripe ones on sale and make sauce.  I drop them in boiling water and skin and seed them.  At this point I sauté a crushed garlic clove in a couple tablespoons of olive oil, just enough to flavor the oil, remove it and add the tomatoes and a few leaves of basil and sea salt.  I cook them down for 2-3 hours, stirring from time to time until they are the consistency of a thick tomato sauce.  At this point you can always add a teaspoon of sugar if needed to coax the sweetness out of the tomatoes.   After the tomatoes cool down I puree them in the food processor.  I then pour the sauce into ice cube trays, freeze it and store the cubes in zip lock plastic bags in the freezer.

The following is my recipe for Amatriaciana where I use my “cubes” of sauce.  This is my “go to” recipe in the colder months when my cupboards are minimal and I have my cubes of tomato sauce and pancetta in the freezer.   I never get tired of this pasta paired with an arugula salad or broccoli rabe.  This is my version of Bucatini All’Amatriciana, the Roman specialty

Carlita’s Bucatini All’Amatriciana

2 servings

pasta for 2 – bucatini or spaghetti, also whole wheat pasta can work with this recipe

4 slices pancetta, cut into ½ inch cubes

1 small onion  cut into ½ inch cubes

1 clove garlic- thin sliced

4 cubes of tomato sauce

1 tea. finely chopped rosemary or sage

pinch red pepper flakes

sea salt

olive oil

Saute the onions in 2 T. olive oil on medium heat until soft but not brown.  Add the pancetta, garlic and rosemary.  When all the fat is rendered from the pancetta add 4 cubes of the tomato sauce.  Salt to taste.  Cook pasta in salted water in large pot, drain, toss with sauce.  This sauce should be silky and just coat the pasta.  Serve with grated pecorino cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.