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Fresh tomato sauce
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Fresh tomato sauce

Around these parts, the folk wisdom has it that if you put out your tomato plants on Kentucky Derby Day (first Saturday in May), you'll have ripe tomatoes on the Fourth of July. But he conventional wisdom never works. Early July always tests our patience with fat, green fruit that just won't get red. But a couple of weeks of summer heat does the job, and we're finally reveling in the enjoyment of a bumper crop.

Needless to say, it's a short step from glory to glut, and we're already starting to confront the perennial question, "What are we going to do with all these tomatoes!?"

Happily, there's a simple answer: Make a lot of tomato sauce. Fresh-made sauce offers delicious richness and fresh flavor that can't be duplicated from a can, and better yet, it's easy to freeze in single-serving portions, making it possible to pull a taste of summer out of the freezer even after the snow flies.

My standard recipe is a simple one, subject to endless variation to your taste. The key, in any case, is NOT the traditional long simmering, but a quick, non-intrusive cooking down that retains the tomatoes' natural fresh flavor. If you decide you want a long-cooked Sicilian-style sauce later, you can always put a ration of this on the back burner and let it simmer as long as you wish.


Fresh, ripe tomatoes (plum tomatoes are traditional for sauce, but any garden tomato will do)
1 large white onion
4 cloves garlic
Several sprigs of basil
Sea salt
Black pepper


1. This is really simple. Cut the tomatoes into large chunks and put them in a large non-reactive pan (most experts advise avoiding aluminum to avoid off flavors, although a hard anodized aluminum surface is OK).

2. Cut the onion into quarters, peel and smash the garlic cloves, and put them in. Add the basil plus a bit of salt and pepper. (Be discreet with the salt and pepper. You can always add more when you use the sauce in recipes, but you can't take it out.)

3. Bring the tomatoes to the boil, stirring and mashing the tomato pieces occasionally. The natural juice of the tomatoes will provide all the liquid you need. When it boils, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the tomatoes are soft but not overcooked. About 30 minutes is plenty.

4. Put the entire contents of a pan through a Foley food mill (an inexpensive and useful accessory that should be available anywhere kitchen supplies are sold). If you don't have a food mill, you can force the sauce through a large strainer, although it's a lot more work. In any case, the point is to separate smooth, flavorful pulp from the tomato skins and seeds, which at this point will have given all their flavor to the sauce.

Use immediately or freeze. It tastes great over hot pasta with nothing added but grated cheese, or of course you can use it as your base in any recipe that calls for tomato sauce.

MATCHING WINE: Your wine match depends on the recipe, of course, but I find that fruity and acidic Italian reds make natural companions with tomatoes and tomato sauce. Chianti with red-sauced spaghetti or pizza is not just a cliche!

Let us hear from you!

If you have suggestions or comments about The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter, or if you would like to suggest a topic for a coming edition and recipe, please drop me a note. I really enjoy hearing from you, and I try to give a personal reply to all mail if I possibly can. The Ask A Question form at is the easiest way to reach me, but if you prefer, you may also send E-mail to


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Thursday, July 25, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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