The Glorious Taste of Summer in the Dead of Winter

If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that we all tend to take a lot of things for granted.  Nowhere is this more true than with fresh summer produce, especially when we’re looking at single-digit temperatures with wind chills in negative territory.  Now, in the dead post-holiday slump that is otherwise known as January, summer seems so painfully lost in time, no matter if you are looking ahead or recalling last year’s crop.

It was with an immense sense of victory, then, that I snuck into my stash of canned tomatoes last week.  Having raided the local farm last August, we binged on fresh tomato sandwiches until we thought we would burst, and I slipped the last, best specimens into eleven Mason jars that were shuffled into a dark corner of the basement.  At that time, I told myself that one dark, bitterly cold day, I would thank myself for doing this.

That day, and many more like it, are upon us now.  I needed a sharp reminder of summer, something to get me through until the thawing frost gives way to new spring growth.  I wanted something simple and straightforward, so I went back to an old kitchen staple – spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce.

I dashed out into the yard, the frozen blades of grass crunching under my feet, and quickly snipped a few sprigs of thyme and a branch of rosemary from the garden, which is holding up amazingly well given the weather.  Hurrying back inside, I grabbed a Mason jar of canned tomatoes off of the bookshelf that we keep in the basement.

Starting with more than a few cloves of chopped garlic, set into a pan of olive oil over low heat, I set to making a simple pan sauce.  As the oil warmed the garlic and grew fragrant, I stripped the leaves off of the thyme and rosemary, coarsely chopping them and throwing them into the pan.  Just as the garlic began to color at its edges, I splashed in some red wine, then popped the lid off of the jar of tomatoes, shaking them into the pan.  A quick stir, followed by a gentle simmer for 45 minutes, yielded a garnet mixture that held the aroma of summer, its depth of flavor enhanced by the fall flavors of rosemary and red wine.

Dinner was as easy as boiling spaghetti and tossing the drained strands into the pan of sauce, with a small mound of grated romano to top it off.  Simple, restorative, and a reminder that no matter how cold, how barren the coming weeks become, summer will eventually follow.