There is something quite magical about a fresh ripe tomato.
Sweet, acidic, juicy, and maybe umami (which I admittedly don’t quite fully understand yet, but tomatoes have it). Occasionally I find dishes missing a certain satisfaction; adding a tomato frequently fills that void.
There’s all sorts of interesting science cropping up in the news lately about grocery store tomatoes, from ripening them in a hot bath before chilling them to developing hardy tomatoes with Actual Flavor (what a concept!). But, I would much rather eat heirloom tomatoes, despite their long and convoluted history. Plus, I can grow those in my own garden (!), collect them from friends when they are perfect, and freeze the ones I can’t use for winter soups and sauces.
Currently, however, it is still summer (yes, I realize it’s September), and I want to be eating fresh tomatoes. But I also want sauce. Something to slurp up with pasta and absorb that rich tomato flavor, but keep some of the freshness.
Friends, there is a solution. It happens to reduce prepwork too, as long as you don’t mind skins and seeds (helpful when you still want to be swimming all day). By flash cooking the tomatoes, you get them to release their juices; then strain out the chunks and put them aside; boil down the juice to get the thick, deep, orangey essence of tomato. Stir back in your barely cooked tomatoes and you are good to go (there’s garlic in there somewhere too).
I would use your medium-grade tomatoes for this. The fresh fresh perfect ones you eat on the spot. The rough and tumbley ones you blanch, peel, and make into freezer sauce or can (or, just freeze whole and when you take them out and start heating them, the skins slip right off). Somewhere in the middle are fresh sauce tomatoes, that require minimal processing but still aren’t quite perfect—maybe a little too soft on some sections, or unevenly ripened. From this you distill your essence.
Fresh tomato essence sauce 1.5 lbs fresh tomatoes, any variety (a mix is good—some juicy ones, some paste, even a few cherry tomatoes) 4-5 cloves garlic 4-5 tablespoons olive oil
Mince garlic; large-ish chunks are fine. Heat oil in a large saucepan over high heat until slightly shimmery, then add garlic and fry briefly, watching carefully so it doesn’t burn. Meanwhile (or ahead of time if you want to make sure to have a proper mise en place), chop the tomatoes into large chunks, removing any areas that are extremely soft, and large cores. When garlic is slightly golden, add your tomato chunks and stew for a very brief minute or two, just enough time for the tomatoes to release most of their juices. With a slotted spoon or a strainer, or most likely a combination of the two, remove the tomato pieces and place in a strainer over a bowl, to catch the rest of the juices. You will probably end up collecting most of the garlic chunks too, that’s good, since you don’t want them to boil too much (although any that you miss won’t be a problem).
On high, boil the tomato juice until you run out of patience, or it gets very thick; add in any additional juice from the draining tomatoes every so often. When thick, turn off the heat, and add back in the tomato chunks.
Stir, and serve. I recommend a few torn basil leaves, and a little cheese if you feel so inclined. Excellent, of course, with pasta, or on toast, or just eaten by the spoonful. It’d be worth making fresh pasta for this—once you have one fresh component, may as well go for the whole meal, right?