Monday, August 1, 2011

it's that time of year

I filled two big bowls with fresh tomatoes this morning, and decided it was time to try another batch of marinara sauce. Two of our eight tomato plants are San Marzanos, and I bought those specifically because they are supposed to be the best for making sauces. About half the tomatoes I picked this morning were the San Marzanos, along with several other varieties that were ripe today, as well. What the hell. I put them all in the sauce, just like I did when Ben and I first tried making our own marinara sauce last week.

I had never made my own sauce before, so it was off to the interwebs to learn how other people do it. I read six or eight or a dozen recipes, and decided I knew what I wanted to do. So Ben and I set to chopping and chopping and chopping vegetables. We chopped onions and garlic and carrots and a banana pepper and basil, fresh from the garden, and lots and lots of tomatoes. Wow. Did we make a big mess. A seedy, juicy, pulpy mess. But what we ultimately made was some marinara sauce, and I have to say, for a first attempt, I was absolutely satisfied with it. I cooked some penne pasta in the water I had dropped the tomatoes in to remove their skins, and within an hour of when we began, we were eating penne with fresh marinara sauce. And I don't think I would have changed a thing.

So today I set about to replicate that marinara sauce. Things were less hectic this time - perhaps because it wasn't the first time I was doing it all - but it sure did go a lot slower as I worked by myself. I felt like I was more in control of the operation than it being in control of me like it was the last time, though. I cooked the sauce longer this time and plan to reheat it another day, using it to simmer some Italian sausage for a few hours. Upon tasting the sauce, I realized I had forgotten once again to liberally salt and pepper the sauce when I started cooking it. I am so used to using prepared tomato products that I forget how much seasoning fresh ingredients need.

My marinara sauce is cooling now, and I have to say, I am not sure it is worth all the effort. I used three big bowls, two big strainers, and two big pots for one recipe of sauce. I think I discarded as much of the tomatoes as I actually used, I made a huge mess, and as I was eating my lunch, I noticed a hunk of tomato skin stuck to my foot. I may just stick to my cold recipes in the future. But it made me think about my mother-in-law and the huge operation she went through every year when the tomatoes were ripe. From what Ben has told me, it was all hands on deck as they made tomato sauce and tomato juice, and canned jar after jar of bright red tomatoes for the coming year. The house wasn't air-conditioned, of course, and the humidity inside was at 100% as the tomatoes steamed and cooked and cooled. But that was just how it was. It isn't all singing That's Amore and playing bocce in the back yard when you're Italian, you know.

UPDATE: It was worth the effort!


Ben said...

Hahaha! I might watch more cooking shows if they had real people getting real tomato skins stuck to their feet and splashing tomato juice on the cupboards.

Don't get me started about "putting up tomatoes" as a kid! Strictly speaking we were canning tomato sauce, not tomatoes. The process made such a gigantic mess that putting up 60 quart jars was scarcely more work than 30 jars. Step one was going to some market and loading the car with baskets and baskets of Italian plum tomatoes. Then you had to find the canning jars and lids and sealing rings. Then you had to pick every ripe tomato from your own garden. Meanwhile, day by day, your store-bought ones were getting moldy and stinky and oozy.

Boiling load after load of jars and lids and setting them on the ping-pong table to dry was an operation in itself, and had to be done the same day as the rest of the process. The tomatoes had to be quartered and thrown into big pots on the basement stove. after they cooked for a while it was time to start pouring the lava-like mixture into the grinder. This was an ancient, hand-me-down, hand-cranked beast that separated the seeds & skin from the pulp and tomato juice. There was one adult (wearing a big white apron) assigned to each handle of the giant pot, with handles wrapped in dish towels. They poured (slopped, splashed) this boiing hot mix into the huge grinder funnel while someone else, often me, turned the crank. The glop was taken in by the corkscrew and forced through screens. You ended up with a smaller pot of pulpy tomato goodness and a bowl full of skins and seeds.

The smell of all this hot tomato stuff filled your nose, your lungs, the basement, maybe the neighborhood. Or did some splash up my nose? Many burns were endured, and much shouting, and much laughing. The raw sauce had to go back on the stove to cook down before it went into the jars. This was where some basil and oregano went in, but no sugar.

One year someone in the family gave us a grinder driven by a big electric motor. Dude! The whole thing stood on the floor like a small coffee table. That monster ate ALL the tomatoes! It never slowed down or got a sore arm. We tended to rush to keep up with it, and Dad would say, just take it easy, shut it off for a while.

Afterwards our hands were raw from the acid in the tomatoes. We were splashed and burned and exhausted. But when the mess was cleaned up, the pans dried, and the aprons thrown in the wash, there was row after row of gleaming jars of tomato sauce, enough to last through the fall, winter, spring, and much of the next summer. Great memories of an annual family ritual. Look for it only in blog posts, for it is a ritual Gone With The Wind.

anne mancine said...

And THEN you sang "That's Amore" and played some bocce.

Ben said...

While drinking cheap red wine and munching lupini beans.