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Tomatoes in Italian Cooking: Tips & Techniques


Suvir Saran
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Away from NYC, and from my kitchen, I have limited resources, not due to being in Denver, but also because I am not as familiar here as I would be in NYC.... and reading through the books I have here, what a certain friend has shipped me as gifts, I realized all of them have recipes for tomato sauce that should be used alongside pasta, but none have recipes using fresh tomatoes. They all call for canned tomatoes.

I made some sauce. Using garlic that was pressed quickly, fried in the olive oil till golden, discarded after, crushed red pepper was added to the oil, basil leaves and tomatoes. Of course salt. The sauce tastes very good.

Are there tips for the non-Italian in the art of making pasta sauce with fresh tomatoes???

What should one know about the art of Italian sauce making?

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Suvir,

When making a sauce using fresh tomatoes, the most important and obvious component will be the ripeness and taste of the tomatoes. Romas are the best sauce making tomato, imo.

I always peel and seed fresh tomatoes that are going into the making of a sauce, unless I am going to put the sauce thru a food mill after cooking (actually, I core and seed canned tomatoes as well - I find that sometimes the seeds can add bitterness). Crushed chili added at the beginning of the sauce making will impart a heat throughout the sauce, while added at the end will give specific bites heat but not infuse the whole sauce. A small, diced onion cooked gently in the olive oil at the start will add some sweetness, as will 1/2 a carrot minced (but I never use carrot!).

That's it from this non-Italian.

Hope you're well...

mitch

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Away from NYC, and from my kitchen, I have limited resources, not due to being in Denver, but also because I am not as familiar here as I would be in NYC.... and reading through the books I have here, what a certain friend has shipped me as gifts, I realized all of them have recipes for tomato sauce that should be used alongside pasta, but none have recipes using fresh tomatoes.  They all call for canned tomatoes.

I made some sauce.  Using garlic that was pressed quickly, fried in the olive oil till golden, discarded after, crushed red pepper was added to the oil, basil leaves and tomatoes. Of course salt.  The sauce tastes very good. 

Are there tips for the non-Italian in the art of making pasta sauce with fresh tomatoes???

What should one know about the art of Italian sauce making?

What you made was a classic Marinara sauce - easy, quick and delicious!. Actually it is classic without discarding the garlic and not including the crushed red pepper. It goes great over palin spaghetti. Do not add grated cheese to this sauce. Nice variations include sauteed shrimp or other shellfish.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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This is the all time hit with all my friends. You cut the tomatoes in half, drizzle some EVOO and give4 it a sprinkle of sea salt. Roast them in the oven until they get mushy and wrinkled. Squeeze out the seeds, and peel the tomatoes. Puree in a food processor.

Stir some minced garlic in EVOO, add some thyme, oregano, bay leave, with a pinch of red pepper flakes, dump in the tomato puree and heat it through. I sometimes will add a splash of white wine to this, but other times I'll leave it and serve with fresh basil on top of pasta.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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This is the all time hit with all my friends.  You cut the tomatoes in half, drizzle some EVOO and give4 it a sprinkle of sea salt.  Roast them in the oven until they get mushy and wrinkled.  Squeeze out the seeds, and peel the tomatoes.  Puree in a food processor.

Stir some minced garlic in EVOO, add some thyme, oregano, bay leave, with a pinch of red pepper flakes, dump in the tomato puree and heat it through.  I sometimes will add a splash of white wine to this, but other times I'll leave it and serve with fresh basil on top of pasta.

Hey Bond Girl. If you could give some quantities, I can post this in the Recipe archive! It sound wonderful.

For example, how many tomatoes etc? :smile:

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Why 'here'? Why not here (on this thread) so we can all benefit ('here' is a thread for chocolate chip cookies!).

Thanks.

It would be posted in the archive with a link on this thread

ah now I see what you're talkin about. Fixed it! Thanks.

Edited by Marlene (log)

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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I second weinoo's opinion on this. If your tomatoes are not outstanding (and in the U.S., that would be, sadly, 95% of the time), you are better served by using the best quality canned tomatoes (but beware the fraud that goes on in canned San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy-for example, the corporate conglomerate masquerading as a health food market, Whole Foods, markets its own "San Marzano" tomatoes, but if you read the can carefully, you discover that the tomatoes are not imported, but instead come from California and merely aspire to the quality attributed to San Marzano tomatoes!). And Bond Girl has it right when she says that oven roasting will concentrate flavor and sweetness of any tomato. However, when I have great tomatoes, I don't cook them at all. I make spaghetti alla checca: Seed and chop the tomatoes to a large dice (1/4 inch square or larger, as you prefer). Salt them with sea salt, and put in a colander at room temperature for an hour to drain out much of the water. Then combine the tomatoes with fresh basil (julienne or in larger pieces if you like a different texture to your basil), a little minced garlic and enough EVOO to create a marinade, plus pepper and additional sea salt to taste. (I often add a pinch of sugar as well, as I find that salt and sugar together have a flavor-enhancing effect on most vegetables similar to MSG-the goal being to balance the quantities of each so the taste is neither sweet nor salty. Try this with steamed broccoli or sauteed spinach sometime.) Let the mixture marinate for 2 or 3 more hours (the longer the better). Next, cut up the best mozzarella you can find (buffala is good, but sometimes, a fresh, locally available artisanal product can be better) into no larger than 1/4 inch dice. Cook up some pasta (I prefer cappellini d' angelo) al dente, and drain, but do not rinse to stop the cooking. Toss the mozzarella cubes in the hot pasta, then toss in the tomato-basil-garlic sauce. Serve with a little fresh-grated Parmignano if you like.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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all of them have recipes for tomato sauce that should be used alongside pasta

Pasta is typically dressed with a relatively small amount of sauce, very often by turning the pasta in the pan in which the sauce is made. Many people do not realize that the final stage of preparation of a pasta dish - turning in the sauce, adding butter, oil and/or cooking water, is a crucial consolidation phase of preparation upon which the success of the dish frequently depends. The sauce is never served alongside the pasta, any more than the pasta itself is served alongside an entree on the same plate.

The variety of plum tomato called "roma" is an excellent sauce tomato.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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I second weinoo's opinion on this.  If your tomatoes are not outstanding (and in the U.S., that would be, sadly, 95% of the time), you are better served by using the best quality canned tomatoes (but beware the fraud that goes on in canned San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy-for example, the corporate conglomerate masquerading as a health food market, Whole Foods, markets its own "San Marzano" tomatoes, but if you read the can carefully, you discover that the tomatoes are not imported, but instead come from California and merely aspire to the quality attributed to San Marzano tomatoes!).  And Bond Girl has it right when she says that oven roasting will concentrate flavor and sweetness of any tomato.  However, when I have great tomatoes, I don't cook them at all.  I make spaghetti alla checca:  Seed and chop the tomatoes to a large dice (1/4 inch square or larger, as you prefer).  Salt them with sea salt, and put in a colander at room temperature for an hour to drain out much of the water.  Then combine the tomatoes with fresh basil (julienne or in larger pieces if you like a different texture to your basil), a little minced garlic and enough EVOO to create a marinade, plus pepper and additional sea salt to taste.  (I often add a pinch of sugar as well, as I find that salt and sugar together have a flavor-enhancing effect on most vegetables similar to MSG-the goal being to balance the quantities of each so the taste is neither sweet nor salty.  Try this with steamed broccoli or sauteed spinach sometime.)  Let the mixture marinate for 2 or 3 more hours (the longer the better).  Next, cut up the best mozzarella you can find (buffala is good, but sometimes, a fresh, locally available artisanal product can be better) into no larger than 1/4 inch dice.  Cook up some pasta (I prefer cappellini d' angelo) al dente, and drain, but do not rinse to stop the cooking.  Toss the mozzarella cubes in the hot pasta, then toss in the tomato-basil-garlic sauce.  Serve with a little fresh-grated Parmignano if you like.

Bill's right. Always look for "Product of Italy" on your canned tomatoes.

We make that preparation frequently, Bill. As with so many things Italian, it relies heavily on the quality of the ingredients. We use fusilli, and sometimes add some red wine vinegar.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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I second weinoo's opinion on this.  If your tomatoes are not outstanding (and in the U.S., that would be, sadly, 95% of the time), you are better served by using the best quality canned tomatoes (but beware the fraud that goes on in canned San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy-for example, the corporate conglomerate masquerading as a health food market, Whole Foods, markets its own "San Marzano" tomatoes, but if you read the can carefully, you discover that the tomatoes are not imported, but instead come from California and merely aspire to the quality attributed to San Marzano tomatoes!).  And Bond Girl has it right when she says that oven roasting will concentrate flavor and sweetness of any tomato.  However, when I have great tomatoes, I don't cook them at all.  I make spaghetti alla checca:  Seed and chop the tomatoes to a large dice (1/4 inch square or larger, as you prefer).  Salt them with sea salt, and put in a colander at room temperature for an hour to drain out much of the water.  Then combine the tomatoes with fresh basil (julienne or in larger pieces if you like a different texture to your basil), a little minced garlic and enough EVOO to create a marinade, plus pepper and additional sea salt to taste.  (I often add a pinch of sugar as well, as I find that salt and sugar together have a flavor-enhancing effect on most vegetables similar to MSG-the goal being to balance the quantities of each so the taste is neither sweet nor salty.  Try this with steamed broccoli or sauteed spinach sometime.)  Let the mixture marinate for 2 or 3 more hours (the longer the better).  Next, cut up the best mozzarella you can find (buffala is good, but sometimes, a fresh, locally available artisanal product can be better) into no larger than 1/4 inch dice.  Cook up some pasta (I prefer cappellini d' angelo) al dente, and drain, but do not rinse to stop the cooking.  Toss the mozzarella cubes in the hot pasta, then toss in the tomato-basil-garlic sauce.  Serve with a little fresh-grated Parmignano if you like.

Your post is making me hungry :biggrin:

Your recipe sounds similar to the simple, but oh so good linguine with EVOO and garlic. The diced garlic is added raw to the hot pasta and EVOO to cook just enough to mellow it. Salt and pepper to taste, of course.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Most people used canned tomatoes because it is so hard to find tomatoes with the wonderful flavor you would want in a sauce. If you want to develop a case of tomato envy visit southern Italy and see what they have to work with. No wonder they have so many tomato recipes. The rest of us are relegated to growing our own, shelling out big bucks for heirloom and other tomatoes that actually have taste - or sticking with canned tomatoes.

As weinoo noted you just need to peel and skin them and run them trough a food mill and you are ready to start cooking your sauce. Good luck finding tomatoes worthy of your efforts. Denver in April does not sound like the best place to find perfect tomatoes.

I would stick to the wonderful tomatoes they put in the can in Napoli after they have soaked up all that nice sun. Look for San Marzano tomatoes and wait until late summer for the fresh tomatoes.

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The sauce was actually quite good.

I think the heat was enough to make even a hardened spice fan sweat.

I usually add dry whole red chiles, had added chile flakes this time, and instead of just a nice dull flavor of chiles, this time it was lots of heat.

As Weinoo suggests, I will add flakes only in the end next time.

I have enjoyed each response here. Thanks all. Keep them coming.

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Okay, I don't know where to post this, but here it is:

3 lbs. of tomatoes

2-3 tbs of EVOO

sea salt

-Cut the tomatoes in half. Drizzle with EVOO, sprinkle sea salt.

-Roast in a 350 degree oven until its wrinkled and soft. Let it cool at room temperature.

-Squeeze out the seeds and peel the tomatoes. Alternatively, you can peel the tomatoes and put it in a fine sieve, and strain out as much water as possible.

-Puree in a food mill or food processor.

this should make about 2 1/2 cups, and in tomato season, you can make a big batch of this and freeze it in zip lock bags or glass jars. I use this in my clame chowders and cioppinos as well.

To make the sauce you need;

1 TBS of EVOO

1 chopped onion

1 large clove of garlic minced

a pinch of thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes

2 1/2 cups of tomato puree

1 bay leave

1/2 tsp of sugar (optional)

a splash of white wine (optional)

1/4 cup of basil, shredded.

salt and pepper

-Heat up the EVOO and stir in the onion and garlic until fragrant

-Add the thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes.

-Stir in the tomato puree and throw in the bay leave. Let the mixture simmer until it thickens.

-At this point you can add some sugar for balance depending on the kind of tomatoes you use. I happen to like my sauce on the tart side, but some sugar will round out the flavors.

-Once it cooks to the desired thickness (and this is up to you), you can either add some white wine to it, and let it cook out, or season it with salt and pepper.

-Serve it on top of pasta with shredded fresh basil.

You may need to tweak this recipe, depending on your personal taste. And, go easy on oregano, or you'll end up with a funny bitter sauce.

Edited by Bond Girl (log)

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Marcella Hazan's recipe for tomato sauce with butter and onion is also delicious and very easy. Basically, you take a 28-oz. can of tomatoes, squeeze or cut the tomatoes into chunks, and simmer them with half an onion (peeled but not chopped) and 5 T of butter for 45 minutes, by which time the tomato pieces will have dissolved into a sweet, intensely tomatoey sauce. In the summer you can use an equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes: peel and seed, then add the chopped tomatoes with their juices.

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It has been my experience that fresh tomato sauce is best made in the summer when farm fresh tomatoes and homegrown are available. I blanch a few hand fulls of vine ripened plum tomatoes for 60 second is boiling water. then quick to the ice bath. The skins are removed very easily using this method. I then quarter them and salt them and allow them a resting period after their ordeal. In a cast iron pan I brown fresh garlic beginning with cold olive oil...extra virgin. When garlic is lite brown I add the tomatoes, salt pepper and red pepper flakes, Use your judgement here. I cook these 20 minutes at the most. When pasta is done (el dente) I add torn fresh basil leaves to the sauce and mix the pasta into the pan. Finish sauce and pasta 30 second and serve with grated cheese...Regianno (king of grated cheese).

Serve with salad and wine...

Enjoy

Jane

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An ex employee of mine who is a first generation Italian immigrant in America, had said to me one day watching the chef at a 2 Star restaurant kitchen, that it was wasteful to seed tomatoes.

He told me his grandma and mom used every part of the tomato that they could. They would never "waste"so much of it....

What do we all think about this? Do tomatoes need to be seeded for preparing a good tomato sauce? How much difference does it make? Are there regions or sauces in which one can get away with leaving the seeds?

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What do we all think about this?  Do tomatoes need to be seeded for preparing a good tomato sauce?  How much difference does it make?  Are there regions or sauces in which one can get away with leaving the seeds?

If the sauce cooks for a long time I use the whole tomato, otherwise I seed them first.

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I am too lazy, I mean busy! to seed and peel tomatoes.

My Italian mother nor Grandmother do it either, I am not sure of their reasons though :biggrin:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I am too lazy, I mean busy! to seed and peel tomatoes.

My Italian mother nor Grandmother do it either, I am not sure of their reasons though :biggrin:

Wow! That is fascinating to know.

I am with your grandma and mom in this regard.

When I cook for pleasure and family and friends, I hardly worry about seeding or peeling.

In fact, I enjoy letting them be that way.

But I always thought I was very bad to not make that extra effort. But then this employee shared the story about his own family in Italy never worrying about this detail.

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Tomato seeds are usually removed from fresh tomatoes for several reasons:

1. They add bitterness to the sauce - this is the main reason

2. Appearance - the sauce looks better without them

3. Removing the seed sack reduces the acidity

4. The process of seeding removes water and makes the sauce less watery

If you don't like the work just get a food mill. Nothing could be easier.

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Tomato seeds are usually removed from fresh tomatoes for several reasons:

1. They add bitterness to the sauce - this is the main reason

2. Appearance - the sauce looks better without them

3. Removing the seed sack reduces the acidity

4. The process of seeding removes water and makes the sauce less watery

If you don't like the work just get a food mill. Nothing could be easier.

Totally agree with you, Craig, as I said in an earlier post about tomato sauces - the seeds add bitterness.

That's what makes a food mill such a great tool!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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