One Final Tribute to Summer, in a Pot of Sauce
I used to dream about San Marzano tomatoes, gladly shelling out three times the cost of a can of “regular” plum tomatoes for 28 ounces of pure Italian summer joy. The low acid San Marzano variety is less sweet than other tomatoes, yielding an absolute superior flavor when used as the base for sauce. They grow only in the small town of San Marzano, near Naples, and they are subject to the strict regulations of Denominazione di origine controllata that are used to certify authenticity of origin.
With all of this in mind, I was excited to be able to order San Marzano tomato plants for the garden this year. They’ve provided a steady crop of plump roma fruit throughout the summer, and last weekend I harvested the last of the ripe tomatoes from the plants, along with a handful of basil. The tomatoes sat on the kitchen island for a few days while I devised a proper way to say goodbye to summer.
As it turns out, the best use of San Marzano tomatoes will always be as the primary ingredient in sauce. Since they are less sweet, and carry less moisture than other tomatoes, they’re not really the best thing to slice and eat like their larger beefsteak cousins.
I started by peeling the tomatoes (cut an ‘X’ into the base of each, place into boiling water for about 30-45 seconds, then hold under cold running water and strip the skin), slicing them in half to let the seeds drop into the sink. I placed a generous mound of chopped garlic into a puddle of olive oil in a saucepan, letting that heat gently as I roughly chopped the tomatoes, tossing them into the pan once the garlic turned golden and aromatic. A splash of white wine to the pan, then I let the whole thing cook slowly, breaking the tomatoes up with a spoon.
When we were ready to eat, I adjusted the seasoning of the sauce with sea salt, then added about a 1/4 cup of half and half. It’s amazing to see and taste the differences between a plain tomato sauce and one that’s had a little dairy added to it. Slivers of basil, stirred into the sauce at the very last minute, provided the perfect herbal companion.
And, at the time of this writing, it’s only three months before I can place my order for next summer’s tomato plants. Until then, I’ll have to make do with what we’ve canned.