Before we cancelled cable, two of the shows Irving and I enjoyed watching were Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Chopped. One night, worlds collided and Bourdain visited Scarpetta Restaurant, owned by Scott Conant, a judge on Chopped. Conant showed us how to make his grandmother’s simple tomato basil sauce using a very short list of ingredients. Irving and I paid close attention and went out the next day to buy what we needed. The flavors are amazingly fresh, especially in summer when all of the ingredients are in season. We loved it and made it over and over for a few months.
I had almost forgotten about this amazing sauce until Irving brought it up the other day—do you ever have recipes that you’ll make over and over for a few months and then completely forget about, and move on to your new favorite? I’m glad Irving pushed me to revisit this sauce—we’ve been making a lot of it lately, and I’m hoping to make a few more big batches to freeze while tomatoes are at their peak! The original recipe calls for cheese, but even Irving, who’s not vegan, said that the flavors are so fresh it doesn’t need it. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
This sauce is ridiculously simple, although it does involve peeling the tomatoes which is a little tedious. But just a little, and not at all hard! All you do is slice an X in each tomato, plunge them into boiling water for a minute, and then into an ice bath. The peels will slide right off! While you peel the tomatoes, the olive oil can simmer with the basil and garlic—be sure to make extra of the garlic basil oil to use for other things—salad dressings, bread dipping, and sautéing veggies—I usually make 2 cups at a time, with the same amount of garlic and basil—the flavor goes a long way!
We like to enjoy this as a guilty pleasure over white pasta—while my weakness is for sweets, Irving’s is for white carbs—and I like to reason that I get so much fiber in my diet that a little white pasta now and then isn’t so bad (Vegan nutritionist Ginny Messina agrees!)! I’ve also just used this in lasagna—delicious, recipe coming soon! This would also make a great pizza sauce—the options are endless.
Here are a few recipes to try: Eas(ier) Lasagna, Rustic Pizza, Beanball Subs, and Rustic Bread Lasagna. You might like to top one of these with my Carma John—Vegan Parmesan Sprinkles! And stay tuned later this week for my new gluten free classic vegan lasagna—amazing!
So go out and grab some tomatoes next time you’re at the store—you won’t regret it!
Tomato Basil Sauce —should be enough sauce for about 6 adults
4-5 pounds tomatoes, not cherry or grape
1/4-1/3 c olive oil
1 head garlic, preferably peeled
1 large bunch of basil
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Fill a medium bowl with cold water and a few ice cubes.
Wash all tomatoes and score an X in them. If they have big stem bases—someone please tell me what the real name for that is!—remove those.
Place tomatoes into the boiling water, about 4 at a time. Let sit for 1 minute. You can watch and will usually see the skin start to peel off. Carefully remove from the water and place into the ice bath. Repeat with all tomatoes.
As the tomatoes cool, start to pull the skin off of them. Give them a squeeze and use your fingers to get rid of as many of the watery seeds as you can. Put the remaining tomato flesh into a new pot. I squeeze my tomatoes out right into the ice bath—it’s a gross mess at the end, but it is easily cleaned by dumping it down the garbage disposal!
Once all of your tomatoes are naked, cleaned and in the pot, turn the heat on to medium high. As they release their water, they will start to simmer. Use a potato masher to gently break up the tomatoes as they cook. They should simmer for about an hour until they turn pretty saucy with a few remaining lumps.
Meanwhile…..Place ¼ cup of olive oil into a small saucepan. Add 1 bundle of basil—I use the large box at the grocery store—you know how they always have two sizes? Add the cloves of garlic. I prefer to peel them and slice them all in half first. I have done them with the peels on out of sheer laziness (as pictured here) but found that the garlic flavor wasn’t as strong. You pick, but know that it’s worth it to peel them!
Tip: Place knife flat on top of the garlic clove and smash down with your fist. You’ll crack the skin and it will be easier to peel.
Tip: I usually make 2 cups of this oil at a time, and just use 2 heads of garlic and the same large bunch of basil. Then it can be stored in a jar for future use.
Simmer the olive oil-garlic-basil mixture while the tomatoes simmer—it should go a good 45 minutes itself. Your house will smell awesome in the meantime, like it’s been invaded by someone’s Italian grandmother!
Once the tomatoes are done, turn off the heat from the oil and strain out the solids, leaving just the oil behind (you can reserve the garlic and use them as a smear on toast, or in hummus, etc.). Measure out ¼ c of oil and add it to the tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste (may need to adjust again at the end). Mix well and allow to simmer again for a good 20 minutes, allowing the flavors to mix. Check for salt and pepper. Once seasoned to your liking, serve with your favorite pasta, pizza, or lasagna!