Harvesting flavor: Red Wine Garden Tomato Sauce makes good use of abundant ingredient
Last spring, my son Gio and I planted about 30 tomato plants in our garden, which have produced an abundance of beautiful garden tomatoes, with varieties including beefsteak, cannonball, early girl, lemon boy, Juliet, cherry, yellow pear and Roma.
We are up to our eyeballs in tomatoes, and this Red Wine Garden Tomato Sauce has become a weekly specialty in our home for the past month.
This slow-simmer sauce isn't difficult to make, but it does require time and patience and is the perfect project for a weekend afternoon. Fresh tomatoes form the essence of this sauce, and if you don't have any tomatoes of your own, I encourage you to pay a visit to any of the numerous farmers markets in the area where they are still in abundance.
This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled, and it freezes well for several months, so stock up if you can while the tomatoes are still fresh.
To create a rich flavor base, I start this sauce by making a soffritto — an Italian word for the classic combination of aromatic ingredients that includes onion, carrots and celery — which is slowly cooked in good extra-virgin olive oil until the vegetables become soft and lightly golden brown. This process takes about 20 minutes, and I also add some fresh garlic and hot pepper toward the end for additional flavor.
Once the soffritto is ready, a half cup of dry, red wine is added and cooked until the liquid is reduced by half. Garden tomatoes have a natural sweetness that I find is better balanced by red wine versus white, and the alcohol content will evaporate as the liquid reduces, making this dish friendly for all ages.
Once the wine has reduced, I add 2 pounds of tomatoes, and large tomatoes like beefsteak or cannonball should be cut into quarters, while smaller varieties like cherry or grape can be left whole or cut into halves. The skins are left on for this sauce and will naturally separate from the fruit as the tomatoes cook for about an hour over a slow simmer.
Fresh herbs like basil, thyme and oregano are added halfway through the simmering stage, and I also add a touch of tomato paste for extra richness.
As they simmer, the tomatoes will buckle into a soft mush and reduce in size by about half from when they began. Once this stage is reached, I remove any herb sprigs and puree the sauce in a blender or food processor, and then pass it through a fine mesh strainer to remove any skin and seeds.
The sauce returns to the stovetop to cook for another 30 to 60 minutes until reduced by about half again, and if you'd like to add meat to your sauce, this is the time to do it. I often brown a pound of ground Italian sausage while the tomatoes simmer, and add that once the sauce has been strained.
The entire process takes about three to four hours, and the result of all this effort is a gorgeous, refined and velvety-rich tomato sauce that I hope you, and your family, will enjoy as much as we do.
Red Wine Garden Tomato Sauce
Makes: 1.5 to 2 quarts
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup yellow onion, small diced
¼ cup carrots, small diced
¼ cup celery, small diced
½ serrano or jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
½ cup dry red wine (Chianti, cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel)
2 ½ to 3 pounds fresh tomatoes, any variety, cut into quarters (small tomatoes like cherry, grape or pear may be halved or kept whole)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup fresh basil leaves (about a handful)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh oregano (or ½ teaspoon dried oregano)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ to 1 cup water or chicken stock, if needed
1 pound ground Italian sausage, browned and broken down into small pieces (optional)
In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the onion, carrots and celery. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring often, until vegetables are soft and golden brown. Add the serrano pepper and garlic and continue cooking over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
Add the red wine and increase heat to medium-high. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half.
Add the fresh tomatoes and stir in until well combined. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, then stir in the fresh basil, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Cover and let simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the skins appear to fall away from the tomatoes.
Remove pot from burner. Remove the herb sprigs and use a ladle to transfer the tomatoes, and liquid, to a food processor, blender or food mill. Blend until well mixed, about 2 minutes per batch. Once blended, place a fine mesh strainer over another large pot or heatproof bowl, and use a ladle to gently push the liquid through until only the skins and seeds remain. Repeat as needed until all the tomatoes have been pureed; discard the skins and seeds.
Return the pureed sauce to the stockpot and add the browned sausage, if using. If the sauce appears too thick, add water or chicken stock, starting with a half cup.
Cover pot and cook for 30 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced by almost half and appears rich and velvety. Taste and add more salt and pepper as desired. The sauce may be served immediately, refrigerated for up to 5 days or stored in the freezer for at least 2 months.
Fargo-Moorhead Foodie Tip
We often receive questions from readers who are looking for a good-quality, affordable extra-virgin olive oil. For the past 10 years or so, we have been buying our extra-virgin olive oil from our dear friend, Peter Schultz (of Moorhead), who imports it directly from Greece once a year.
He sells the oil by the case starting at $139.00 per case (that's $11.58 per bottle). The ordering period closes Monday, Sept. 24, and the oil is expected to arrive in December in time for the holidays.
This is the very best extra-virgin olive oil we have found, especially at these prices. We are sharing this tip because we are huge fans of Schultz and his oil, and we receive nothing in return. Orders may be placed online until Sept. 24 at www.peterschultzimporter.com.
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"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com.