Tag Archives: Tomatoes

Fresh Tomato Essence Sauce

fresh tomato sauce

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.

tomato 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?

fresh tomatoes draining


Chile Verde/Rojo


I may have discovered the cure for the common cold.

The trick is to add about 5 times as many hot peppers to a dish as you are supposed to. It makes eating into a sweaty workout, except that your nose runs instead of your feet. But it has the benefit of clearing sinuses and expunging that blocked bubble feeling in your head, to a point that I felt like I had taken… something stronger.

I find myself looking forward to fall, in part because it provides more of an excuse to do some real cooking. Summer is awesome for all the fresh produce, but most of the time I want to eat it cool, juicy, raw, right off the vine/bush/tree/etc. Not that I didn’t have some fun cooking adventures this summer. And I like fall for other reasons too—the color and smell of turning leaves, the cool air, the warmth of bright orange squash and pumpkins.

This dish has the good fortune to take advantage of both summer ingredients and fall weather. I am sure that it is in no way “authentic”; I combined a couple different recipes, as usual, but essentially threw together a bunch of ingredients, spices, and chiles (honestly I didn’t even know what kinds of chiles I had before dicing them and throwing them in the pot). But for 95% Maine ingredients (everything but the olive oil), I think this Southwest classic worked pretty well.


I got the idea for chile verde from this recipe in Saveur, and when I got a cold last week I decided I needed it. Unfortunately I didn’t have any tomatillos on hand, which is why the verde turned into rojo. Worked just fine, although I imagine it would also be quite delicious with tomatillos.

Note on portions: this made enough for about 2 1/2 large bowls/servings. Good for just me, but make more if you want to share (recommended—spicy adventures are fun with a companion. But maybe hold back any extra chiles, unless you want whoever you are with to see you with tears and sweat streaming down your face).

Chile Verde
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp coriander
1 onion
3-4 cloves garlic
1 sweet pepper
1 Anaheim pepper
1 serrano chile
1 jalapeño 
 more chiles, proportional to how much you like sweating or how bad your cold is
2 cups tomatillos, or tomatoes, chopped
Maybe 1/3 lb pork shoulder or chops, cubed
2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable), or water
Cilantro, avocado, and lime, for garnish

Prep all the ingredients first: dice the veggies, mince the garlic and chiles. Add the spices to a big saucepan and cook for about a minute, until fragrant, then add the oil, onions, and garlic and sauté for a bit. Throw in the sweet peppers and chiles (don’t stand over it too much after adding the chiles—it might sting your eyes) and sauté until soft. Finally, add the tomatoes and simmer.

Meanwhile, if you have another pan, salt and pepper the pork, then brown it in a little oil. Once browned on all sides, pour in the stock and deglaze the pan (scrape up all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan). If you don’t have another pan, wait until the veggies are soft, take them out and put them on the side, then cook the pork.

Pour some of the stock into the veggies (or just add the veggies back to the pot, and take out the pork as you can), and put in your handy immersion blender to purée some of the tomatoes. Some chunks are okay, but it should be pretty puréed—this is what gives the chile body (alternatively, take some out and put it in a blender if you do not have a hand blender).

Add the pork back in and simmer with the lid on for at least 30 minutes, until pork is tender. If there is too much liquid, take the lid off for a bit.

Scoop into a large bowl, let it cool for a few minutes, then squeeze in a little lime and garnish with cilantro and avocado. Have some bread and napkins on hand, and enjoy.


Other recipes suggest roasting the Anaheim peppers (and maybe others) before adding them. And obviously using tomatillos. You could also make a roux or a corn roux (corn flour and oil) and mix it in at the end to thicken the chile. And if you are of the total vegetarian disposition, omit the pork and it’ll turn into spicy tomato soup.

Eating this the next day was actually rather more of a pleasure because I could actually taste it, in addition to feeling the effects of the chile (one’s sense of taste is not improved by a cold). I assure you that the flavors are good, even when not overwhelmed by heat.

Tomato Tart


I’m really digging this savory tart thing. I think because I was baking before I started cooking, and dealing with crust and ovens feels very familiar to me; but then you get to add juicy tomatoes and eat it for dinner instead of dessert.

I may have found my new favorite cheese and I used it in this recipe. Unfortunately it is not a local cheese, although I did buy it at a local store: it’s a Dutch double cream gouda from Cheeseland. Very smooth and melts like a dream.

For the tart itself, I was looking at a couple different options—originally I was thinking something with a custard base, but a lot of the tomato tart recipes online have just tomatoes and cheese. This is essentially taken from David Lebovitz, but I’m writing it here anyway.

Tart dough
1 1/2 cups flour
1 stick butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water
Tomato Tart
2-3 large tomatoes
Melting cheese (like double cream gouda)
Fresh goat cheese (or a combination of cheeses you love)
Fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

For the crust: Cut up the butter and freeze it for a while (or just make sure it is cold if you don’t have time). Mix egg and water together and put in the fridge (or the freezer, but don’t forget about it!) while you measure out the flour and salt. Cut the butter into the flour—I like to cut it very small before freezing it, and then I can kind of smoosh it into the flour with my fingers without it warming up too much. Mix in the egg/water mixture until combined, but don’t knead it too much or it’ll get tough. You can wrap and refrigerate it at this point, or just roll it out (usually determined by timing). If you don’t have a rolling pin, use an empty (washed) wine bottle.

Sprinkle a clean surface with flour and roll to fit whatever pan you have (I don’t have a tart pan and wasn’t feeling a pie pan because I didn’t want sloping sides with all the juice in the tomatoes, so I made it in an 8×8 glass pan, and then made an additional galette with the rest of the dough, which worked spectacularly). Either fold in quarters or roll gently onto the rolling pin to transfer it to the pan. Gently press in and arrange the sides as you wish. For a galette, just place a circle of dough on a baking sheet. Put in the freezer while you prep the other ingredients.

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Thickly slice tomatoes (1/3-1/2 inch). Cut up the cheese into small slices or very small chunks. Strip the thyme from stems.

Remove dough from the freezer and spread with mustard. Arrange the tomato slices on top and nestle in the chunks of cheese and gobs of fresh cheese. Top with thyme, salt, and pepper, and slide into the oven. With the galette, fold over the sides (they are hopefully un-frozen enough to do this at this point) and press them together.


Bake for 30 or so minutes, until golden. Juices may get a little bubbly, just watch it to make sure they don’t spill in your oven. I also broiled mine right at the end to make the cheese on top nice and crispy.

Serve warm or at least room temperature. This reheats excellently in a toaster oven, or the oven (the galette was my office lunch one day this week, topped with arugula with some zucchini on the side).

Pesto Tomato Toasts


I wouldn’t call this bruschetta. But I guess it’s similar. More like an open-face sandwich maybe. Anyway, a fantastic way to celebrate those glorious tomatoes that are at the market these days (by far my favorite time of year for produce. SO MANY COLORS. Is great). 

(This also happens to be an excellent use of all that pesto you have been making…)

One time a couple summers ago I was so inspired by the tomatoes I went out and bought a gallon of milk to make fresh mozzarella, which is surprisingly easy (as long as you can find raw or at least unpasteurized milk). At some point I shall share some cheese-making adventures with you, although it’s been a little while.

Inspired yet?

I don’t really feel like I need to give you a recipe for these but for consistency’s sake…

Pesto Tomato Toasts
Pesto (any variety, although I am partial to basil here)
Zucchini, if you want
Fresh cheese (I recommend goat cheese or fresh mozzarella)
Salt and pepper (I forgot this the first time and it makes such a difference!)

Thinly slice and quickly sauté the zucchini, if using. Toast the bread (unless you have ridiculously fresh bread). Spread with pesto, then zucchini, cheese, and tomatoes (I like this order because otherwise the tomato juice can make the bread a little soggy). You can also drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar if you want. Admire, then stuff into your face. 


A BLT is another fabulous medium for those fresh tomatoes. I really don’t think I need to give you a recipe for those… B, L, T. ‘Nuff said (just make sure you get good quality ingredients).


P.S. Check out my new paring knife—my other one broke (it was a bad day) and so I have attained a new one with the help of my father. Good knives are essential to successful cooking. Shiny, yes?