There’s a bounty of plum tomatoes in the Covid Victory Garden so I deal with them in two ways — fresh for a quick meal, and slow for a savory sauce you can freeze or can for a taste of summer later in the year.
First way: Fresh tomato and basil on pasta al dente my ass*
For this you need about six plum tomatoes, olive oil, chopped garlic, chopped parsley and basil, and some dried oregano.
Wash all the tomatoes and remove the stems. Cut off the tiny stem head, then quarter and cut twice more the tomatoes into chunks.
In your favorite sauce pan, get the oil hot and add the garlic. Do not brown the garlic. After it has cooked a little and softened, add the tomatoes, salt them and stir them up. Let them cook a bit, then reduce the heat a little. Add the herbs and stir again. Add a couple of tablespoons of the salted water in which you’ve precooked the spaghetti. Cook the spaghetti al dente — that is, firm to the bite. *My mother, the late and former Rose Popolo, did not like spaghetti this way. One summer, when I made this dish for her, she complained that the spaghetti was under-cooked. I said, “Ma, it’s al dente.” She said, “Al dente my ass.” Oh well, you can’t win them all, but the name stuck.
This wonderful mixture of fresh tomatoes and herbs should cook to a gooey topping in just minutes. Stir in the spaghetti, mix it all up and serve right away. Top with some parmigiano. You and your guests will inhale this, which is how Sophia Loren said good pasta dishes should be eaten. You can look it up.
The second way is a little more time consuming but worth the trouble.
Wash the tomatoes and remove the stems. Do not use a knife for this because we don’t want to cut and make them bleed yet. Drop them in a pot of hot, almost boiling water. Cover and let them sit in the hot bath until the skins blister.
After about — oh, I dunno — 10 minutes, using a strainer or strainer spoon, remove the tomatoes to a bowl and top them with ice. You should see their skins blistered and wrinkly.
When the tomatoes have cooled, pour away the ice water through a colander. Use a small knife to remove the stem head and peel off the skins. Discard the skins; they go in your compost pile. At this point you can crush the tomatoes with your hands if you want. Some people like that. It’s not for me. I use a vegetable smasher.
Start some olive oil and garlic in a sauce pot. When the garlic has just started to soften, add the tomatoes. Be careful when the cold, juicy tomatoes hit the hot olive oil. You don’t want to be standing there with no shirt. (Never do this kind of cooking while naked.)
Some people crush the tomatoes before they go in the pot. I crush them in the pot. It only takes a minute or so.
Add oregano, chopped basil and parsley and stir it all together. Let the liquid cook down. Salt to taste. If you need to thicken the sauce, you can add a small can of tomato paste, some water from the spaghetti pot and a little wine. I always add a little crushed red pepper.
Let this simmer for an hour or two. I sometimes transfer the batch to a slow cooker and let it simmer for three or four hours. You can add cooked meats if you like — a leftover pork chop, or browned Italian sausage or some quick-cooked ground beef, or meatballs if you’re really ambitious.
I put my sauce in freezer bags and the freezer bags in insulated mailing sleeves and freeze for another day.