Quicker, Easier Stewed Tomatoes

Although I did not realize this was unusual — or even something to cherish — until I was much older, I grew up in a household that made our own tomato sauce, and occasionally even our own pasta. As a kid, this mostly meant a lot of hard work, lost Summer vacation time I could have been spending on my bike, in the pool, or reading a book, and being in an un-air-conditioned house that now had a hot stove in it for an entire day. At that age I didn’t actually like the kind of sauce you end up with when you take two bussels of Roma tomatoes, crush them through a mill to remove seeds and skins, and then simmer them for several hours with spices. And so, this family ritual was not my favorite in spite of ready access to all the famous Jersey Tomatoes one could ever want within a mile of my home.

Today, of course, I lament my lack of insight and foresight at the time, and yearn for the days of such delicacies as fresh sauce and fresh pasta. Even buying so called “vine ripened” tomatoes at the organic grocery cannot produce anything remotely like a similar result.

Well, the last year and a half I’ve had a community garden plot. Last year we had six tomato plants, only one of which was Roma tomatoes, and it hardly bore any fruit. So this year we planted seven Roma plants and one grape tomato plant. Unfortunately, the Roma are again producing very little fruit (actually, quite large fruit, but not many of them) and they are leaping directly from green to rotten in most cases.

But about a week ago Liz went with me to the garden and set about to picking the over abundance of grape tomatoes which were more than plenty ripe and ready for eating while I was busy picking green beans and cucumbers and re-planting some hot peppers. The only problem is that I don’t actually like fresh tomatoes very much. The texture utterly freaks me out.

So what to do with a hundred grape tomatoes? Well, if they’d been cherry tomatoes, this would have been a real problem, because in spite of small size, cherry tomatoes have a lot of seeds and a thick skin. Not so with grape tomatoes. They are thin skinned and largely seed free.

Could they make a good sauce I wondered?

Into the Blendtec they went with a liberal amount of olive oil (cheap stuff!), a few of my Italian Rooster peppers from the garden, a large quantity of fresh basil from the garden and some other dried herbs. Just enough application of violence to produce a pulpy mess but not a smoothie and all of this went into a large pot over very low heat.

A few hours later (two with the lid on, two with the lid off) we had some of the best sauce I’ve had in a long time — and without having to actually process any tomatoes ahead of time. I’m sure that the Romas will make better sauce when they finally come in. But they’ll also require some processing.

So, if you find yourself wanting fresh sauce, but like me you have childhood baggage that prevents you from embarking on the rendering of two bussels of Roma at a go, see if your farmer’s market is offering grape tomatoes. They are the non-obvious, even counter-intuitive, option for quick sauce.

Better yet, look into the myriad of “one square foot” vertical gardening techniques that are out there and grow your own. A single grape tomato plant is high yield and doesn’t get nearly as unruly as the larger varieties do. You’ll need some kind of caging, but you won’t need seven feet of it.

If you don’t have vegetarians in the house, render down equal parts of lamb, pork and beef with a roughly 20% fat content and no bones, over very low heat until the meat is fork tender and the fat has completely liquified. Then add your Blendtec tomato preparation, sans olive oil. After more slow cooking (covered, then uncovered) you’ll have a fantastic Bolognese.