Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Sauce of Our Own

One of the many perks of having a plot of fresh produce just outside your backdoor is how easy it is to cook simple, delicious meals. We both enjoy cooking, in pretty much all its forms. There are nights that we want to make something from a fancy recipe, and spend hours in the kitchen rolling roulades, whipping up demi glaces, and scads of other french-sounding culinary tasks. If we're in the right mood, that can make for a whole evening's entertainment. But other nights we just need a simple way to use some of our fresh garden produce.

This has particularly been the case recently, as our planned canning tomatoes have come in bit by bit rather than in one giant harvest. It seems we never have enough at one time to can up, yet if we try to wait for more to ripen, the first few will start to go bad.  So why not make up a batch of garden-fresh tomato sauce, not to save, but to eat right away? A tasty sauce, inspired by this find on the internet - roasted tomato sauce from the "Sweet Pea Chef" blog.

We started with two pounds of our sauce tomatoes, romas and a variety called agro. Both of these tend to be meatier than a regular slicing tomato, so you don't end up with a bunch of watery goosh when you cook them. We opted to use some of our older ones as well, just cutting off any parts that looked or felt a bit past their prime. These we cut in half, and placed into sprayed baking dishes, along with a roughly chopped onion, several cloves of smashed garlic, and a couple cut-up carrots (they were small ones). As an added bonus, every single one of those ingredients was grown by us in our own backyard!

We drizzled the pans with a hearty amount of olive oil, then salted, peppered, and threw them into a 350 degree oven for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Hey, we said it was simple; we never said anything about quick! After an hour, the house began to fill with the aromas of roasting tomatoes, and by time we pulled them out, some of the veggies were just starting to blacken a bit and caramelize, like this.

Now you have to resist eating the lovely roasted tomatoes on their own - remember, we want a sauce here. And this is another time where an odd little kitchen tool really comes in handy. Sure, you could blend up the vegetables and probably get a good, smooth sauce. But if you use a food mill, it will separate the slightly tough skins from the now-softened meat of the tomatoes. No tomato skins getting stuck in your teeth, they all get caught in the top of the food mill! Either way, the whole pan's worth - tomatoes, onions, garlic, and carrots - all get pureed through the food mill.

Those skins at the top sure don't look too appetizing, so they go to the compost bin, while we go on to making this into a meal. The sauce is yummy enough on its own that you could use it with noodles if you wanted a basic spaghetti marinara. We wanted to fill it out more into a full meal, so we added a couple cut-up links of chicken sausage, plus some chopped zucchini that we just sauteed in olive oil. Put all that together on top of some spaghetti noodles, grate some parmesan cheese and sprinkle on some fresh basil, and that's a hearty dinner.

Spaghetti with red sauce is never going to earn any Michelin stars or make it into a fancy French cookbook. But it's delicious comfort food, and sometimes it's just what you feel like. We've long felt that food doesn't need to be fancy as long as it's made from quality ingredients. This is a perfect example. We know that the tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, zucchini and herbs are grown in a manner we agree with, because we grew them. And short of making our own sausage (eww) or making our own pasta (time consuming), this is about as close to an entirely homegrown meal as you can get. We may have taken some inspiration from a recipe we found online, but this really was a meal we grew ourselves. Not just from farm to fork, we took this from seed to sauce!

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