IN THE KITCHEN…
By Scott “The Unlicensed Taxi Driver”
Roasted Tomato Pan Sauce
In the previously aired podcast Episode 2, we “potpourried” about a date night food pairing for red wine. During that section I briefly outlined the making of a roasted tomato pan sauce. The listeners have requested more details. Ask and ye shall receive…
I’m by no means a master chef, nor am I trained in culinary cuisine. I like to cook and I like to eat. To feed these desires, I’ve picked up a trick or two along the way. One of them is this technique for a date night pan sauce.
Warning: this is not a recipe. I don’t do recipes. It’s just not how I cook.
Let me first start by describing what the desired finished product is, that would be a rustic, chunky sauce. However, what the final product is not is “Nana’s Sunday Gravy”. I’m taking about my Cuz’s wife’s velvety, luscious family recipe, the kind that’s on the stove top all day freaking incredible sauce. Much love Cuz and props and love to the better half. But don’t fret, you’ll love what I’m sharing with you. The best part, it’s just not that difficult, it’s all about a couple techniques.
Let’s start out with a little ingredient list:
-5 lbs roma or plum tomatoes
-2 boxes chicken/beef stock
-fresh black pepper
-1 small white onion
-you choose the pasta, gnocchi or maybe go crazy and serve with polenta
-optional items: celery, carrot, marjoram, thyme
Here’s the first technique: roasting the tomatoes.
You’ll need a large salad or mixing bowl, the larger the better. Can it hold a couple gallons of water is the question? If so, that’s the measuring stick. Don’t have the bowl? Clean your sink really well and use it instead.
You’ll also need either a Pyrex or stainless steel lasagna pan. An edged cookie sheet will also do, but don’t use a flat sheet pan that isn’t edged. You don’t want the mess of tomato juice running off the pan onto your oven.
The roasting of tomatoes will be done in batches. The size of batch depends on how many you fit in your pan. Capiche? You will also need a smaller bowl, say about a quart in size. Glass is best, stainless will work too. Okay, oaky, use plastic if that is all you have.
Start by preheating your oven to 350 F.
Let’s get to it. Wash your ‘maters. For what we’re doing – I use my large bread knife but any bigger knife with a serated blade will do.
Simply cut the tomatoes in half – top to bottom; straight through the core.
Place both halves in your large bowl.
As an option, you can “core” the stem, or simply cut the top off the tomato. First timers, don’t worry about this and just split the tomato in half.
Cut about half the tomatoes. Then we will season them.
Cover the tomatoes generously in olive oil. Use a nice extra virgin olive oil.
Wash your hands.
Using your hands, mix the tomatoes so they are evenly covered with the olive oil.
Generously sprinkle the tomatoes with sea salt and the fresh cracked black pepper.
Go back in with your hands and mix the tomatoes so they are evenly covered with the sea salt and black pepper.
Now we pan our tomatoes.
Place the tomatoes on the pan “insides down” i.e. skin side up.
Space them so they barely touch each other.
Pop them in your preheated oven.
Note: oven temperatures “vary.” That is, my oven’s 350 may not cook the same as your oven’s 350. Feel free to modify the temperature. But first time in, go with 350, we don’t want to burn them. However, more experienced listeners could even use the low broiler setting (I mentioned using the broiler in the podcast.) Just don’t burn ‘em people!
At three fitty, roughly the roasting will take 20-25 minutes. Begin checking at 15 minutes, which by this time the tomatoes should have begun “wrinkling” and browning. If you use the broiler start checking after 8-10 minutes.
Done will look like this: all your tomatoes will have browned and most will be slightly blackened (and puckered.) From about 15 minutes until finished, the aroma will fill your kitchen with knowledge that you are creating something special. On the music station in my mind, which I have absolutely no control; Karen Carpenter sings “We’ve Only Just Begun.” God I’m getting old.
Remove our pan from the oven. Two words novices…Oven mitts.
Now taking the tomatoes from the pan, don’t expect perfection. Use the thinnest metal spatula you own. I have a stainless steel pie spatula that works perfect. Some of our roasted guys are going to stick to the pan, don’t sweat it.
Spatula your tomatoes into the aforementioned glass bowl. Once your batch is transferred to the bowl cover the entire bowl with plastic wrap. Don’t be afraid of taking the gooey juices from your pan and transferring them into your glass bowl. Move onto your next batch of tomatoes. Slice them in half. Fill your bowl. Season them. Pan them – reusing the same pan. Back into the oven.
After about ten minutes of cooling under the plastic wrap; you are ready to remove the skin from your first batch of tomatoes. The truth is I don’t worry about time. My first batch is ready to remove the skin after I have my second batch panned and on into the oven.
Pull back the plastic wrap.
One at a time, remove the skin from each tomato.
Our now de-skinned and roasted tomatoes are en masse placed into quart or gallon plastic storage bags.
You are done, for now. That’s right folks this is a two day process. Or this could be done Saturday morning for a Saturday night sauce. The “aging” of the roasted tomatoes in the storage bag is an important step, trust me folks.
You can save all the roasted tomato skins. They make a great additive to meatballs or meatloaf. Simply save them in a storage container or plastic bag. When making your meatloaf, simply chop your roasted tomato skins and add them to your meatloaf mix (50/50 pork beef, please tell me you aren’t using straight ground chuck in your meatloaf?) Delicious.
You will be licking your damned fingers during the process of de-skinning the tomatoes and munching on the skins too. Wash your hands when you do!
Also the more you repeat this dish, the better you’ll get at removing the skins and eventually you won’t need the bowl/plastic wrap. You’ll just be able to pull them off when they come out of the oven.
Baby steps. Use the bowl technique at first.
Part two: making the pan sauce.
The key to any cooking is building flavor. This pan sauce builds flavor in two steps: first roasting the tomato which becomes the base for our sauce. Then we saute vegetables and that is our next step.
Finely dice your onion. Finely dice “the white part” of two pieces of celery. Don’t include the green part – the white section from the bulb of celery is where the flavorful sugars reside. If you want to go crazy, shred half a carrot. If you don’t have a grater to use, buy one. Otherwise don’t include the carrot.
Use fresh garlic and a garlic press; 3-4 small cloves. Now if you don’t have much cooking chops, just use the frozen cubes (Trader Joes and many retail stores sell this way.) If you have to do so, use the jarred stuff but I recommend the frozen cubes if you aren’t capable of using fresh garlic.
Use the largest flat pan you own. If you don’t own a kickass stainless steel pan, shame on you. Go get one. I’m not judging you, really, but Rob is (go figure.)
On medium-low heat, add a generous amount of olive oil.
Put one or two pieces of onion in with the oil.
When the oil starts to “cook” the onion (listen for the sizzle) add the entire diced onion.
Add your celery and carrot (Bug’s favorite veg is still optional.)
Add a couple pinches of sea salt.
DON’T SKIP THE PINCHES OF SALT!
Stir to give each piece of onion and celery (and carrot) equal love with the oil. Don’t let your saute sit. When the onion is beginning to become translucent, add two cubes of the frozen garlic cubes (one teaspoon of the jarred stuff.)
Add a couple more pinches of sea salt. Adding the salt as you add ingredients is what brings out the flavors during the sauteing process. Once the garlic is added continue to stir.
Don’t let the garlic burn!!!
Don’t use iodized salt. Just don’t do it. Never. Sea salt versus iodized salt: It’s like night and day. It’s like the difference between a McDonald’s hamburger and a 35 day aged bone-in Ribeye steak.
During the saute and before you add the garlic, pull your tomatoes from the refrigerator. Gently work the tomatoes with your hands to “smash” them in the bag.
Caution: don’t tear the bag or break the seal.
When your onions have become translucent and completely softened, add your tomatoes. Use a spoon to continue “smashing” them and blending in with your saute.
Completely cover the tomatoes with water. Cover with a splash guard. If you don’t have one tear off a piece of foil and wrinkle it. Pinch your wrinkled foil in the center. Voila! Makeshift spash cover.
If you don’t cover your simmering pan sauce you will have splatters all over your kitchen, stove top, counter and wall. Chicks dig clean guys. Don’t be messy.
Cook on a low simmer, i.e. don’t boil it rapidly. Do the opposite. If you are “gently bubbling” – then you are par for the course.
Reduce all the liquid while you stir every few minutes. After all the liquid is reduced. Cover with water again.
After the second time you have reduced the liquid, add chicken or beef stock instead of the water. Your tomatoes will be really breaking down at this point. Taste with a spoon. Smile ‘cause it’s good!
Reduce your liquid and continue adding stock until you deplete your stock.
If you over reduce and are left with a sauce that is thicker than you’d like, no worries, simply add a little water, a few ounces at a time, until you get it to the consistency you would like.
For an added flavor kick, get your hands on veal stock in lieu of beef or chicken. Another added flavor kick is to make you own stock!
I’m not going to dictate to you about your pasta. Make your own, I just recommend a hearty pasta with this sauce. Time your pasta with your last reduction, by that time you should have a pretty good idea how long each reduction takes, put your pasta into boiling water to time them out together.
As noted in the podcast, gnocchi is a safe option. Fast cooking, will pair well with this rustic sauce and maybe most importantly, your date won’t have to worry about the spaghetti “splash.” Decent gnocchi can be found in your frozen food section at any grocery.
Basil. Just before serving take a nice handful of fresh basil and slice it into thin strips. Use your hands to separate the sliced basil and sprinkle it through your sauce. Remove from heat.
I like to mix half the sauce into the cooked pasta. Reserving the last half of the sauce for topping the pasta in your serving bowl.
You probably have an hour and a half of time in the roasting process. Should be about an hour for the pan sauce or part two of the process. While you are reducing your sauce, you can prepare a salad, cook some bread, drink some wine and converse.
If you don’t have much game take a trial run and fix dinner for your mom. Nothing tells mom you love her more than fixing her a meal.
Play with this recipe. Take liberties with fresh spices. Try adding fresh thyme, marjoram or both, when you add the tomatoes to the saute. Add some roasted red peppers to the sauce maybe but own it. Make it yours.
Give this sauce love and you’ll love what you at the end of the day.
Scott “The Unlicensed Taxi Driver”