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Tomato Sauce in the Raw

11 Sep



Every August or September, Goomba Joe, who I wrote about in these pages regarding his meatballs (Goomba Joe’s Polpette), would invite my family up to his apartment for dinner where one of the courses would undoubtedly be what he called “pasta crudo,” or tomato sauce in the raw. He had a small terrace where, with limited sun, he grew enough tomatoes for a few batches of this uncooked tomato sauce.

Goomba Joe is sadly gone, though now my family has a spacious sunny terrace where, using planters, we can usually grow enough tomatoes for more than just a few batches of pasta crudo. This year because of, let’s see, a cool spring, too much rain, a brutally hot early July followed by a cool August, culminating with an invasion of  tomato hornworms—or any other excuse I can come up with—the terrace tomato crop has been paltry . As of this writing, however, they are making a strong late season comeback and their bounty has yielded enough for at least one good batch of pasta crudo.

The hornworms like their tomatoes raw.

The hornworms like their tomatoes raw.

There really isn’t much to making uncooked tomato sauce. If your tomatoes are ripe, in season summer tomatoes, you can’t go wrong.  The sauce is not exclusive to pasta. It can be used as an Italian salsa or, even better, slathered on crusty bread as a bruschetta topping.

The ingredients are few:

3-4 baseball-sized ripe (but not overripe) tomatoes, chopped

1-2 thinly sliced cloves of garlic*

¾ cup of basil torn into pieces

½ cup of olive oil

1 teaspoon of sea salt

Crushed red pepper to taste

Parmesean Reggiano to taste

1lb of fusilli, rotini, or spaghetti


chopped tomatoes

Put the chopped tomatoes into a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic).

Add all the other ingredients and mix delicately with a spoon.

Let the sauce sit or “macerate” for at least one hour. The tomato sauce can sit at room temperature for up to eight hours, any longer I recommend refrigerating and then pulling them out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.

Tomatoes and basil

Meanwhile cook one pound of pasta. For this, I used fusilli, but spaghetti works well too.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and add the sauce, mixing well.

Sprinkle generously with grated Parmesean Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.

Tomato sauce in the raw.

Tomato sauce in the raw.

*If you have an aversion to raw garlic even though it has softened during the maceration process from the salt and the acid from the tomatoes, slice or chop it into bigger pieces before adding it to the sauce and then remove it just before serving. Why you would do this, I don’t know.







Fruits and Vegetables for the Ignorant

22 Mar



Know nothing

Despite knowing nothing, I recognize a special when I see one.

Know Nothing



Poultry Panic Postponed

1 Feb


This past week panic gripped the nation when rumors of a chicken wing scarcity went viral. Was it a conspiracy to jack up prices on the eve of the greatest consumption of chicken wings: Super Bowl weekend? Would we have to settle for the abomination that is the “boneless” chicken wing as a substitute? Today, a country’s fears were allayed when it was reported that there will not be a chicken wing drought for Super Bowl weekend. That the estimation by the National Chicken Council that approximately 1.23 billion chicken wings will be consumed this weekend should be realized.

“There will be no shortage,” said Tom Super, National Chicken Council spokesman. “They might be a little more expensive. But there is and will be plenty to go around.”

broccoli rabe

A few weeks earlier, another headline made me quaver with fear. This one read: “Broccoli Rabe Shortage Ravages Philadelphia.” I don’t live in Philadelphia but if there is a shortage of broccoli rabe just a ninety minute drive away, then it must be here in New York as well.

Upon reading the news, I quickly checked my local market. The  whopping $4.99 per pound for what was available of the bitter leafy treasure confirmed that the ravaging had spread to New York and beyond.

The distressing news reports above were preceded by another in September of last year when, those who care about such things, myself included, were alarmed by what was predicted to be a shortage of bacon.

baconOn their website,Time asked: “Start Hoarding Now: A Global Bacon Shortage Is Coming?” This of course, sent thousands, no millions into panic and premature grief over the possibility of converting to turkey bacon.

A week later, however, Fox News refuted the reports with a headline of their own: “Bacon shortage may be hogwash, but prices will still rise”

So all is well in the world. Chickens will still have wings. The B in a BLT will not be from a cow or turkey.  And in Philadelphia they will never substitute a roast pork and broccoli rabe hoagie with sauteed spinach. They all just might be “a little more expensive.”


A Pair of Pepper Sauces

12 Nov

I heard tell there was a big wind coming our way. A super storm they were calling it. The terrace had to be cleared of potentially dangerous projectiles. The few herbs that remained were not a threat, but the never ending procession of hot peppers that were still going strong in late October had to be “terminated with extreme prejudice.”

In May I planted two types of hot peppers I bought in the Arthur Avenue Retail market in the Bronx including one I’ve grown before called “Portugal Hots,” a long thin pepper similar to the cayenne. The other was labeled an “Italian chili pepper.” I wasn’t sure what an “Italian chili pepper” was but hoped that it was similar to what was sold in the same retail market in the fall; bunches of slender, one-inch long red, fiery chilies still attached to their stalks. I was assured by the salesperson that it was.

Portugal Hots

In the abnormally warm spring and hot summer, the plants grew fast and when the first fruits began to appear, I was surprised by what I saw on the so-called Italian chili pepper plant. The peppers were growing upright and looked something like jalapeno peppers. Once they were green and fully formed, they were definitely not the Italian red chili peppers I had hoped for.

I scoured the internet to find a match to what I was growing. What I discovered was that the peppers were called “Fresno” and, according to my research, similar to a jalapeno. I was disappointed. I didn’t want a jalapeno or anything “similar.” The plants were healthy and the numbers of peppers on them countless. When the first pepper turned red, I tried it. It had very little heat adding to my disappointment.

A few weeks later, as more turned red, I cut up another. This time I was blasted by heat. And as the summer wore on and the peppers matured further, their fire became explosive—much hotter than a jalapeno, Serrano, and spicier than the Portugal hots that were growing next to them. I had some serious hotties on my hand. If the Scoville scale that is my tongue was any indication, these Fresnos were just a notch behind the habanero in heat quotient.

Fresno peppers

As both the Portugal hots and the Fresnos prospered throughout the summer and into early fall, I bagged bunches and put them in the freezer where they would last a year. Frozen, I use them in stews, sauces and anything else that required a blast of spice. I had more than enough already to last a year so I gave bags away to others who, like me, get masochistic enjoyment when the inside of their mouths are blistered.

Still, many peppers kept coming as summer faded and though some were still green, a super storm was on its way and I had no alternative but to harvest what remained.

As any self respecting citizen should, I have several bottles of hot pepper sauce in my refrigerator ranging from mild to hiccup-inducing hot.  Is there such a thing as having too much hot sauce? I didn’t think so. So inspired by a fellow bloggers at website caled Putney Farm who had a similar dilemma and turned that profusion of peppers into a homemade pepper sauce, I thought I would try it as well. But because I had two different types of peppers, I decided to make two different pepper sauces.

As I do with many recipes, I cull the internet and usually mix and match from a variety I like and try to come up with something my own.  The first, using the Portugal hots, was to be a “fermented” pepper sauce or one I would have steep in a brine for several days before actually pureeing into a sauce.

Since I just used what I had of peppers, the quantities of the ingredients I pretty much played by ear. For the fermented hot pepper sauce, I had enough of the Portugal hots, (green stems removed) to fill up a pint jar.

To the jar I added three peeled whole garlic cloves and two teaspoons of sea salt.

I then filled the jar with water and made sure the peppers and the garlic were submerged before tightening the lid of the jar.

Once the jar was sealed, I placed it in the back of a dark cabinet and let it ferment for about 10 days. You can ferment, from what I gathered, for as little as a few days up to two weeks. I was in no rush.

After ten days, I opened the jar and drained off the water (now a brine), saving it to add back into the sauce. I put the garlic and the peppers into a blender and added back half of the brine along with an equal amount of white vinegar.  Depending on how you like your hot sauce; chunky or smooth, is how long you puree. I wanted mine closer to smooth than chunky so I pureed long enough to get that consistency.

After pureeing, I poured the hot sauce back into the pint jar, sealed it, and put it in the refrigerator. The sauce will last a year—or until you are ready to make another batch next year.

Portugal Hot pepper sauce pureed smooth.

The recipe for the Fresno hot sauce was pretty much identical to what my friends at Putney Farms laid out in their blog post Homemade Hot Sauce. In theirs, they used Serrano peppers. The Fresnos I grew, as I said, were hotter than Serranos, but I didn’t think that would necessitate a change in the recipe.

Their recipe called for 8 ounces of peppers. I had more and adjusted accordingly. Not using rubber gloves, I sliced all the Fresno peppers, but made sure I kept my hands away from my eyes, nose, and private parts until I could sufficiently wash them.

Along with the peppers I sliced one large white onion and minced two garlic cloves.

To a medium saucepan, I put a tablespoon of olive oil. And then, on medium heat, added the peppers, onions and garlic. The recipe at Putney Farms warns of the fiery vapors that will be unleashed from the sautéing of the peppers. It was in the forties outside, yet I opened the windows, turned on the ceiling fan, and commenced the sautéing. For extra protection I wore a surgical mask. After a few minutes, however, I removed it. The vapors were helping to clear congestion in my chest. Just another one of the magical benefits of the revered and cherished capsicum.

After sautéing for about five minutes, I added two cups of water and two tablespoons of brown Demerara sugar.  I cooked all for about twenty minutes or until most of the water was evaporated.

Once the mix of peppers, onions and garlic cooled to room temperature, I added a cup of cider vinegar and pureed in a blender.

I poured the puree through a fine mesh sieve until only the thick skins and seeds still remained and what passed through was a smooth, creamy, pinkish mixture.

Now I had two hot sauces. I tried them both.

The Portugal hot fermented sauce had a mild pepper kick. The Portugal hots, I’ve found, can be inconsistent in terms of heat. Some are very hot while there might be a few that have barely a trace of fire. Knowing that, I still like them for their intensely sweet pepper flavor that when combined with the heat makes a unique taste. The sauce, however, though with a slight, vinegary tang, was overpowered by garlic. I would definitely limit the garlic if I decided to make the sauce again. Still, I looked forward to sprinkling a generous amount over roast chicken with yellow rice and beans.

Portual hots hot sauce

The Fresno pepper sauce on the other hand was everything I wanted. Just a few drops would suffice on any dish, it was that hot. There was also a sweetness from the inclusion of brown sugar and cider vinegar that added to the flavor. If anything, I would cut down on the sugar a bit next time.

Fresno hot sauce


Coppertoned Eggplant

14 Aug

I don’t know what is more abundant, the summer eggplant crop or the recipes on what to do with all of them. And here I am joining the fray with one of my own.

This one is not unfamiliar. It’s the summer version of eggplant parmigiana. The difference between the summer and non-summer is that the eggplant is  grilled as opposed to the traditional egg-dipped, breaded and then fried (though my non-summer version is baked, never fried, but that’s another story).


2 medium to large eggplants-sliced into ½  inch rounds*.

3 tbs of olive oil

1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella

½ cup of grated parmigiana or pecorino cheese

4-6 cups of marinara sauce (recipe below**)

6 fresh basil leaves

Salt and crushed red pepper to taste.

*You could peel the eggplant if the tough skin bothers you. I peel them when I am making eggplant parmigiana in the oven. But I think charring the skins adds to the summery flavor of this dish.

After slicing the eggplants, sprinkle with salt (Kosher or sea salt preferred) and coat with olive oil.

If using a gas grill, turn it on and warm it up. Using a charcoal grill is a bit trickier, but the results will be more satisfying. The eggplant will gain a smoky flavor that can’t be replicated with the gas grill. The problem is trying to keep the eggplants from falling through the cooking grate as a sacrifice to the charcoal gods. You’ll need one of those vegetable and/or fish baskets to go over the original grate. I have yet to find one I really like so I tend to cook vegetables on the gas grill. And even when grilling on a gas grill, I usually lose a few through the grates no matter how careful I am.

Grill the eggplant until it has that nice, even Coppertone tan. Tan lines, in this case, are more than acceptable. The char lines from the grill grate add to the beauty of the eggplant’s appearance.

Tan lines accepted.

Remove the eggplant from the grill and let them cool while you put the parmigiana together.

Copptertoned eggplant

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a 9 inch, by 13 inch baking dish, (or something similar) spread about a cup and a half of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Arrange the eggplant slices on top of the sauce, add another half cup of sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle half of mozzarella over all.

Building the parmigiana

Add another layer of eggplant slices and repeat with the sauce and mozzarella. Continue until you have used all the eggplant. Make sure you’ve saved some sauce and mozzarella to coat the top of the last layer.

Scatter the fresh basil leaves evenly over the sauce and mozzarella and then sprinkle the parmigiana cheese over all.

Put the dish in the oven and cook for about 15 or 20 minutes or until the sauce bubbles and the cheese has melted. Remove from the oven and serve warm.


Coppertoned eggplant parmigiana


**Simple marinara Sauce recipe

1 28 ounce can of good Italian whole peeled tomatoes

3 tbs olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped. (The finer the slice or chop, the more garlicky the flavor).

¼ tsp of crushed red pepper

4-6 fresh basil leaves

Salt to taste


Empty the tomatoes in a bowl and crush with your hands.

Pour the olive oil into a skillet and heat to medium-high.

Add the garlic and cook until very slightly browned.

Toss in the tomatoes.

Add the crushed red pepper and basil and a moderate sprinkling of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Marinara sauce can be made well ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen and then thawed when needed.

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