Cooking

Recipe: Less can be more when it comes to great fresh tomato sauce

This July 27, 2015, photo, shows fresh tomato sauce with pasta in Concord, N.H. The beauty of this recipe is you can cook the tomatoes for as little or as long as you want, and you’ll still have a lovely, clean sauce. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

This July 27, 2015, photo, shows fresh tomato sauce with pasta in Concord, N.H. The beauty of this recipe is you can cook the tomatoes for as little or as long as you want, and you’ll still have a lovely, clean sauce. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

By Katie Workman, Associated Press

Tomato lovers wait for this moment all year, that moment when the plants in the garden are struggling under the weight of those gorgeous red (or yellow or orange or even green) orbs, and the tables at the farmers markets threaten to buckle under the load. We slice and eat them as fast as we can, but we still can’t keep up. Nor can we ever get enough.

This is when fresh tomato sauce comes into play, turning a basketful of ripe tomatoes into an easy dinner.

The beauty of this recipe is you can cook the tomatoes for as little or as long as you want, and you’ll still have a lovely, clean sauce. I like to take out about half of the sauce after 10 minutes, preserving the sweet-acidic freshness of a barely cooked tomato, then let the rest of the sauce simmer for longer so that it reduces and concentrates and becomes deeper in flavor.

The two batches are then reunited and whirred together, and the result is a sauce with both depth and brightness. Not in the mood for that extra step? Just cook the whole thing for about 20 minutes, blend it up and call it a day. Also, if you prefer a chunky rustic sauce, just skip the blending step altogether.

You can use absolutely any tomatoes you like. Some are more meaty, some have more water and seeds, and the sauce’s consistency, flavor and color will vary accordingly. And if you have the opportunity to mix different varieties of tomatoes you’ll get a blend of different notes of sweetness and acidity. The tiny bit of sugar bumps up the natural sweetness of the tomatoes; it’s a nice touch. However you make it, this is the quintessential summertime pasta meal.

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FRESH TOMATO SAUCE WITH PASTA

This July 27, 2015, photo, shows fresh tomato sauce with pasta in Concord, N.H. The beauty of this recipe is you can cook the tomatoes for as little or as long as you want, and you’ll still have a lovely, clean sauce. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

This July 27, 2015, photo, shows fresh tomato sauce with pasta in Concord, N.H. The beauty of this recipe is you can cook the tomatoes for as little or as long as you want, and you’ll still have a lovely, clean sauce. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 4

4 pounds ripe tomatoes (about 14 plum tomatoes)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

6 large fresh basil leaves, chopped or shredded

12 ounces dried pasta (any variety, use wheat for a healthier version)

Parmesan cheese, to serve

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water and have it nearby.

Use a paring knife to cut an X across the bottom of each tomato. Carefully set the tomatoes into the boiling water, cook for 60 seconds, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice water. Cool for 1 to 2 minutes.

Place the tomatoes on a cutting board with a groove to catch the juices, then dump out the ice water, reserving the bowl. Peel off the tomato skins, then roughly chop the tomatoes, discarding the stem and any white core. Transfer the chopped tomatoes and any juices on the board to the bowl.

Return the large pot to medium heat. Add the oil, onion and garlic and saute, not allowing the garlic and onions to get more than lightly golden, for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Stir in the red pepper flakes, if using, and season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and all of their juices, then increase the heat to high. Bring to a rapid simmer, add the sugar, then cook for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to break down.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer about half of the tomatoes to a bowl. Continue to simmer the rest of the tomato mixture for another 15 minutes until it thickens further and some of the liquid evaporates. Stir the reserved tomato mixture back into the pot along with the thyme and basil. Check and adjust the seasoning.

While the tomato sauce finishes cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.

For a chunky sauce, you can simply drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss with the sauce to combine. Alternatively, use an immersion blender to puree the sauce as smooth as you’d like right in its pot, or carefully transfer it to a food processor or blender and pulse or puree the mixture — in batches if necessary — until it reaches the desired consistency. Serve with grated Parmesan.

Nutrition information per serving: 530 calories; 120 calories from fat (23 percent of total calories); 14 g fat (2.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 240 mg sodium; 86 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 16 g sugar; 17 g protein.

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