Tomatoes: summer’s rubies are still gleaming

Last year, which was the first summer in our home, our garden suffered greatly from poor soil and extensive shading by surrounding trees. Not to be defeated, my husband built a lovely raised-bed garden in a new location this past spring, and filled it with rich compost. With my due date fast approaching, I wasn’t much help, but he did a great job by himself. The result was a bountiful garden which yielded glorious fruits and vegetables, including enough tomatoes both to work into practically every meal and to preserve for the months ahead.

Now, with winter almost a month away, it is a joy to reach a jar of ruby-red, homegrown organic tomatoes off our pantry shelf. While they are an ideal backbone for comfort-food dishes like chili and venison stew, they also star in another of life’s simple pleasures, homemade tomato sauce.

I was in my early 20s before I’d every attempted to make my own tomato sauce. I was inspired, however, by a beautiful cookbook I’d received as a gift, The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. This is one of those beguiling cookbooks in which enticing recipes are interlaced with personal insights and pleasing vignettes (and yet the results never feel cloying). You get the feeling that each meal Anna creates is a celebration in itself, and you can’t help but get caught up in the vibe and want to fly to the kitchen, grab a spatula in one hand and a spoon in the other and go in search of food nirvana.

So, I was gung-ho as I completed each step for Anna’s tomato sauce, from peeling the tomatoes to roasting them to simmering away for hours. The results, of course, were heavenly,  the thought of committing once again to such an undertaking, daunting.

Over the years, I developed an easy, pared-down recipe for tomato sauce that still demands a good long simmer, but with very little prep time involved. It works equally well for a bumper crop of garden tomatoes or with jarred tomatoes. The deep, rich, tantalizing result is an asset to everything from the humblest pasta to the most elaborate lasagna.

Summer Rubies Tomato Sauce

Just do this: throw 3-4 pounds tomatoes, quartered, stem area removed (or 3 cups jarred undrained tomatoes or 28 oz. canned); 1 large red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks; and 6-8 plump cloves garlic, peeled, into a blender. Purée, working in batches if necessary; pour the results in a pot and simmer gently with the lid on, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and rich.

(Additions such as 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste; salt and pepper, to taste; 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil; 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil; and 1 tablespoon each chopped fresh oregano and flat-leaf parsley are all optional. Stick with the basic trinity of tomatoes, onion and garlic and you can’t go wrong; remember, you’re not being lazy, you’re a purist!)

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