To me, summer feels like it’s really, finally here when the market is overflowing with tomatoes that actually look like tomatoes — instead of those artificially shiny orange balls we seem to get all winter. When the tomatoes are plump and gorgeous like they are now, I know it’s time to make my all-time favorite Summer Tomato Sauce.
Full disclosure: I actually don’t like plain, raw tomatoes and rarely eat them. Some people might think it’s strange, then, that this time of year I seriously crave this sauce and even eat it straight. Maybe it’s just me, but I think raw tomatoes and cooked tomatoes are completely different things. I wish I liked them raw; it would save me lots of hassles in sandwich ordering.
Anyway, I discovered this sauce on my honeymoon, when my husband and I biked through Provence. One of the things I remember most (besides the fact that every medieval French village was inconveniently built on the top of a very steep hill) is the fresh tomato sauce they put on just about everything from pasta to eggplant to rabbit. This sauce to me is the epitome of Mediterranean cooking — seasonal, simple, healthy, and of course delicious. It took me quite a few attempts to recreate it (part of that is due to ingredients; I really think that with very few exceptions, the groceries in Europe are better than they are here), but this is it! Whenever I make it, I feel like I can taste summer and southern France — and who wouldn’t want that?
The sauce is what foodies call “crude” — it’s chunky. It’s very easy to make, out of a few simple, healthy ingredients (see picture below; that’s basically it), which puts it in the “perfect food” category if you ask me. It’s heaven on grilled eggplant and zucchini as well as pasta. I’ve tried it on halibut before, and it was excellent. It’s even good cold. I’m not a wine expert, but it goes perfectly with Rhône style wines like they make in Provence. But it’s plenty tasty with a chardonnay or cold beer, too. It keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and then you can freeze it and have some in mid-winter to alleviate symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Since this recipe is one of my best attempts at French cooking, we might as well call it by its French name, non?
Coulis de Tomates d’été
- In a very large skillet or Dutch oven, heat 5 tbs. extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Cook 3/4 cup diced onion (about 1/2 tp 3/4 of a large onion) and 5 large garlic cloves (finely chopped) for about 5 minutes. Don’t let the garlic burn.
- Stir in 5 lbs. unpeeled, chopped tomatoes (I buy the ones on the vine and sometimes mix in a few dark-colored heirlooms if they have them), 1 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, some ground black pepper, and 1 cup fresh basil leaves (I cut the basil with kitchen scissors but not too finely). Cook over high heat for 30 mins. and stir occasionally.
- Depending on how juicy the tomatoes are, the sauce will be very thick to soupy. If it’s too thin, simple simmer a while longer. You can add another tsp. or so of olive oil if it’s too thick. If it needs more sugar or salt, add a bit, but it probably won’t.