Friday, September 12, 2014

Simple Tomato Sauce // When Life Hands You Tomatoes (weeks 54 & 55)

Our final pop-up event of the summer was a failure. To be more precise, it was a giant, epic, “this isn’t even over yet and I already know I’m going to cry about this for days” no-good, terrible disaster. Our booth was placed in a god-awful location. At the last minute, management decided to call the whole thing a “cash-free event.” For three days, hordes of cashless concert goers dug deep in their high-waist denim shorts for credit cards (no food, it turned out, for those unfortunate few who stuffed a mere twenty dollar bill in their bra straps), and then sauntered over to the food area, a destination that consisted of a good dozen or so food vendors that, by some unfortunate chance, we were not in. Rather, our designated location left us up on a hill, both out of potential customers’ way and also out of their minds. Cricket. Cricket. Then, when we thought things could not get any worse, early Sunday afternoon the sky tore apart, bursts of lightening illuminated the swirls of black clouds and, just like that, the whole thing was cancelled.

Which, of course, is how we ended up with a spare twenty-five pound box of tomatoes hanging out in our home kitchen early last week.

On Monday, Labor Day, Jay and I spent a solid half hour hovering above our kitchen island, just staring at the bloated box, wondering what in the hell we were supposed to do with twenty-five pounds of tomatoes anyway. Since we already had dozens of trays of unsold meat taking up space in the store’s fridges, we didn’t have space for them at the shop. Plus, although he never directly said so, I think Jay felt like they were unlucky in some way and didn’t want them anywhere near his cash register or his knives.

The obvious answer, of course, was to spend an afternoon canning them all up and storing them away for winter. But, in our defeated state, neither of us had the spirit to start sterilizing mason jars. Rather, Jay reached in the fridge, pulled out the last of the summer shandies, and together we moved to the couch for the remainder of the day. 

For the next few days, I began to think of the tomatoes as an enemy of sorts. Every time I meandered into our kitchen to whip up my morning smoothie or to sneak in a late night snack, there it was: a box literally overflowing with jewel-colored reminders of our failures. Neat.

By Tuesday night, I moved the box from our island to a long white bench on the far end of our kitchen. Out of sight, out of mind. But they still caught my eye. By Wednesday, I moved the box again, this time to a spot beneath our kitchen table that I almost never stop to consider (evident, by the way, by the pile of crumbs I discovered there; apparently, our vacuum also never pauses to consider this spot). On Thursday, I was completely annoyed and moved them into the laundry room, figuring that at least they could hide out behind a closed door until I had the heart to do something with them. But on Monday (four whole days after their last move), while attempting to casually toss a load of bath towels in the wash, there they were, like sad little seeded children, completely neglected by moi. And then -- because, you know, fruits and vegetables have human emotions -- I finally began to feel badly about ignoring them.

Without putting much thought into my next steps, I found myself filling a large pot with water and, once it reached a rolling boil, dropping the neglected tomatoes into the steaming bath. I figured, at the very least, I could offer them a sort of cleansing, if you will, to make up for my lack of attention. The house was silent as I removed each tomato and gently dropped it into an ice bath, where its thin, translucent skin began to shrivel and crack away. Then, I grabbed our very stained, very splattered copy of the Silver Spoon, by far one of my top five favorite cookbooks ever, and by far the one I reach for the most when we cook at home, and turned to my most cherished page.

This is indeed an incredibly easy, back-to-the-basics kind of recipe that I so admire for its blatant simplicity and its admiration and celebration of ripe, seasonal produce (perhaps almost too ripe in my case, which is what you get when you smuggle produce into your laundry room, I guess). The recipe, if you can call it that, requires just a few ingredients: plump tomatoes (good quality canned tomatoes also work well during the winter months), a bit of sugar to help bring out the fruits' natural sweetness, a few garlic cloves, a pinch of coarse salt and a small handful of torn basil leaves as well as a good glug of olive oil right at the end. The final product is a simple, flavorful everyday tomato sauce that tastes, well, exactly like tomatoes are meant to taste (which, I think, in our world of prepackaged, preservative packed everything, is sort of saying a lot). Typically, I find the recipe goes pretty quick in our house (figure one night of pasta, followed by another night of pizza and the sauce is gone); however, should you find yourself with an excessive amount of tomatoes, the recipe can easily be doubled (or tripled…or quadrupled) and then frozen for several months.

Simple Tomato Sauce
from the Silver Spoon

- about 1 dozen fresh tomatoes, peeled
- pinch of sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- coarse salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

Place the tomatoes into a pan and add the sugar, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook over a very low heat for about 30 minutes. Do not touch or stir the tomatoes during this time. Mash the cooked tomatoes with the backside of a wooden spoon and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly. Stir in the olive oil and the basil. When kept refrigerated, the sauce will keep well for about a week. 


  1. Just wanted to drop a note saying thank you for your blog. I'm at a weird point in life where I'm thinking of making some changes/taking some risks and opening a store of my own, or something along those lines. Just chasing dreams and the like. Getting to read through your history of opening your shop was super fun and really enlightening. It's great to gain some perspective on the trials and the rewards of it all. Picked up a few good-looking recipes too!

    Many thanks,

    1. Hi Sam,
      Thanks for your sweet note. I'm glad my site has helped you along on your own journey. I'd love to know how you stumbled upon my site!
      Thanks again. I hope you'll drop by again soon.
      Good luck - Ang :)