Fresh tomatoes, at last! Right now, they are at their ripest and juiciest.
There are as many approaches to homemade tomato sauce as there are different tomato varieties. They fall into two distinct categories: the super-quick version in a skillet over high heat and the slow-cooked sauce that burbles in a deep pot over a low flame.
Now is the time for the speedy version — a sauce that tastes like those sun-split beauties. This recipe is easy on the cook (no reason to heat up the kitchen) and it’s ready in no time flat.
Wait for winter to make a long simmered sauce from this summer’s tomatoes. Store some of them in the freezer so when February’s winds rattle the windows, you can take your time warming the kitchen, stirring and simmering herb-scented aromas of summer.
Today’s recipe calls for a mix of sturdy plum, fat juicy beefsteak and tart-sweet cherry tomatoes. Each adds its own character and flavor to the skillet. Be sure they’re truly sun-ripened tomatoes — and they don’t have to be perfect. At the farmers market, look for the “seconds,” those misshapen, slightly bruised tomatoes that can be had at a very good price. The surest way to decide which to use is to taste them first. If you like them, you’ll be pleased with the resulting sauce.
Most sauce recipes suggest peeling and seeding tomatoes. But the jelly that surrounds the seeds is loaded with flavor and helps thicken the sauce; the skins add a rough, rustic texture. If you object to seeds or skin, you can always run the tomatoes through a food mill after they’ve been lightly cooked.
In this version, the tomatoes dance in the pan for a few minutes so they retain much of their fresh nature. There’s no middle ground here; when making a sauce, the tomatoes should be hardly cooked at all or simmered for a long time because anything in the middle is “meh.”
One of my favorite recipes doesn’t even cook the tomatoes and instead it calls for dicing and tossing them with hot pasta, herbs and oil. But I’ve found that a bounce in a hot pan helps release their juicy flavors.
Then, you can add a handful of chopped garden herbs, a few capers, a dollop of fresh ricotta or shredded Parmesan, whatever you like and have on hand. Nothing could be easier or taste more like summer.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.