Working Out with Tomatoes

I have a confession to make: I haven’t been to the gym in over a year. I used to work out, but I don’t anymore, and I need to start again. But thanks to the arrival of tomato season, I’ve just discovered the perfect upper body work out: making fresh tomato sauce.

Last week I couldn’t resist all the tomatoes I saw at the farmers’ market near my office. Knobby, misshapen heirlooms, peppy yellow and red cherry tomatoes—it was difficult to choose, but I finally bought three pounds of juicy plum tomatoes and came up with my saucy agenda.

I borrowed my mother’s food mill, a simple metal contraption with a hand-operated crank that used to belong to my grandmother. After cooking the tomatoes for a few minutes, I turned, pushed, and swirled that crank over them, running the press forward and back again as the tomatoes’ skins and seeds separated from the pulp. When my right arm had enough, I switched to the left. I could almost feel my muscles getting bigger and buffer.

But what excited me more than my possibly chiseled biceps was simply making my own sauce from scratch and having a strong connection with the meal I was creating. It was so much more satisfying than opening a can of crushed tomatoes and cooking them down into a sauce. I actually smiled and laughed out loud as I spun that crank around and around. I never had this much fun on the StairMaster, I’ll tell you that much.

As the sauce slowly cooked on the stovetop, it thickened and became as crimson as an ocean sunset. I tossed it with some penne pasta and garnished the dish with fresh basil for a simple, sweet meal that I enjoyed from start to finish. With a glass of red wine and a green salad, I was set for the night. I’ll get back to the gym some other time, maybe after tomato season is over.

Recipe for Fresh Tomato Sauce 

  • 3 pounds plum tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 medium onion, halved and then cut into thin strips
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • sugar 
  • basil
  • 1 pound of penne or any other ridged pasta
  • parmesan cheese
  • black pepper

Heat a large sauté or sauce pan over medium heat. Add your tomatoes. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to soften and their juices start to run out. Take the pan off the heat.

Spoon a small quantity of the tomatoes into a food mill. The food mill should be placed over a bowl, so that the pulp can drip into it. Turn the crank and run the food mill’s blade over the tomatoes, crushing them so that skins and seeds are separated from the pulp. You should turn the crank forwards and backwards, pushing down on it to add pressure. Repeat until you have strained all the tomatoes. Discard the seeds and skins from the mill.

Wipe out your original sauce pan with a paper towel. Over medium heat add a few glugs of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add your onions. Sauté the onions until they are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and discard.

Add your strained tomatoes to the pan. Add a few dashes of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a handful of fresh basil leaves. Cover and bring to a boil. Stir the sauce and reduce heat to low so that that sauce is simmering. Cover and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce is ready when it reaches your preferred level of thickness.

When ready, cook your pasta. Toss sauce with cooked pasta. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper. Garnish with fresh basil and serve immediately. Serves 4. Enjoy! 

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    I agree — nothing is better than the sauce you make from scratch with tomatoes grown, if not in your own garden, then in a field on a local farm. Something about that sauce always feels so primal. And the taste — the best, ever.

  2. 2

    Christina said,

    Hi Lydia! Of course, I agree with you on this: Nothing is better than fresh sauce. I’m glad I was able to freeze some for later!


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