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Guido's Tomato Sauce
Recipe by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro

If I ever include recipes in my weekly produce rantings, they are always at the end of the piece. Not so today, in that most of this is going to be about the tomato sauce that is still simmering away in the Guido Test Kitchen down the hall.

Here it is the middle of summer, and hey, what says summer better than fresh tomatoes! And old-fashioned heirlooms at best. Let me set this up. I have three heirloom tomatoes bushes/trees growing in my backyard. One variety is called Kentucky Beefsteak. That one is thick, bushy and seven feet tall. No lie. It also has nary a fruit which is even pink yet. I'll have enough time to walk to Kentucky by the time I get ripe fruit from that monster plant.

The second one is a Brandywine which is famous for big, richly flavored tomatoes. This is the variety that always does well in blind taste testings. That guy is tickling six feet, and again all green fruit.

The third one is called Stupice which is originally from Czechoslovakia before it became the Czech Republic. It is used to cold temps and naturally that is the only one that is pumping out fresh tomatoes for me at the moment.

So where did I get the fresh heirlooms for my home made sauce? Did you forget that I work in the produce biz? A couple of cases were on their way to becoming ketchup, so I rescued them.

I only make big pots full of this sauce when I get LOTS of tomatoes. Tonight I had probably twelve or more pounds to start with. Now at $2.50 or $3 per pound of heirloom tomatoes ... you get the point. Tackle the following when your own, or your neighbor's tomato bounty comes in. Or if you get bargain rack tomatoes from you local grocer.

I usually do not use roma, ie cooking, tomatoes for sauce. Yes, they are meatier and require less cooking but most varieties just don't have the big flavor I want. My theory is to use the most flavorful tomatoes, no matter what they are. Tonight I used about five pounds each of Cherokee Purple and Gold Jubilee toms. The Cherokees are VERY juicy and the Jubilees are a bit meatier and with less acid. But again, use what you can get a hold of.

First. Wash tomatoes. Then take the tip of a sharp knife and cut out the stems. Put all the tomatoes in a mixing bowl until you are ready for them. Beware of any recipe that calls for peeling and seeding tomatoes before they go a' saucing. Those folks want you to expend energy in a wasteful manner.

Sauce does not live by tomatoes alone. I started out with a big pot probably five quart size and for that I used two very big onions. One and a half I sauteed in a bit of olive oil to start the whole thing off. (I saved the other half for later.) So a splash of olive oil, say two medium onions, three quarters of a HEAD of garlic (It sounds like lots, but it isn't) and about three bay leaves.

Let this simmer until the onions get just a bit golden and then toss in all the tomatoes. What I actually do is cut up the tomatoes over the pot so I get smaller pieces without losing the juice to a cutting board. I add to this a whole bunch of fresh basil. Just the leaves and not the stems. I also put in probably 3-4 tablespoons of dried Italian seasoning and some marjoram. Oregano, rosemary, and parsley all work. It was too dark tonight to raid my neighbor's rosemary bush so that will have to wait until tomorrow morn.

If I'm making a no-meat sauce, I'll make up for it by adding assorted veggies to make up for some of the lost bulk. To this one I added a big homegrown gray zucchini and some mushrooms. But you can add crookneck squash, green beans, celery etc if you like.

Here's one thing to remember. The acid of the tomatoes needs to be balanced with some sweetness. Most folks just use sugar. I don't like the taste of sugar in cooking so here's what I did. I added some honey, about two tablespoons and, for the first time ever ... dried mint! That actually did the trick. Another good way of adding sweetness is to use grated carrots.

Last little thing. It was explained to me as "layering". That's when you add some of the same ingredient at different stages of cooking. Remember when I said to save some of the onion for later? Well now is later. This sauce has been slowly simmering for four hours, and it reduced in volume by at least one quarter. (Those heirlooms are juicy!) At this point, I added the other half onion, another five cloves of garlic, more zuke and even a few more tomatoes. Now this will cook for another half hour or so, if I can stay awake that long. So the ingredients I just added will add a different flavor and texture than what I started out with. It does work, as I've used this elsewhere, especially with herbs and spices. I almost forgot the salt. I put in about a tablespoon. But as always, do that to your own taste.

If it tastes good after all of this, you've had a successful saucing experience.

Tomatoes

Hoorah, yipee and yahoo! That's three cheers for tomato sauce! At least that's the impression I got after the enthusiastic response I received from my tomato sauce article last week.

It seems though that I put the sauce before the tomatoes. But I am nothing if not unpredictable. (Note to editor: check for Guido's possible triple negative) Today I want to run through some of the odd ball tomatoes that you'll be seeing the rest of the summer at a small market or Farmer's Market near you.

I'll tell you right off folks. You'll rarely see these heirloom tomatoes in large super-duper kind of markets. Here are a couple of reasons for that. One, BIG markets are set up for BIG volumes of stuff. And these specialty tomatoes are not available in those kinds of numbers. Two, they are fragile and demand far more attention and management than is readily available is huge stores. But who knows what the produce future will bring. The beginning is a good place to start. Heirloom tomatoes are so named because they are OLD like a family heirloom, something that is valuable enough to pass down from one generation to the next. These here kind of 'maters go back hundreds of years, some of them.

In fact, if you plant the seeds of these you'll get the exact same plant next season. That same thing can't be said of new-fangled hybrid seeds that rarely, if ever reproduce themselves. (Need more info than that, please contact a botanist.)

One of the more common heirloom varieties is the Brandywine. The Brandywine is a 100+ year old variety, named after a river that runs through Pennsylvania and fancied by the Amish. It is a hefty beefsteak type, meaning it'll do fine as a lethal weapon. When really ripe, it turns from a pinkish red to almost a pale burgundy in color. There are a few varieties, the pink, red, yellow, black but ... never you mind! They ALL good!!

Just above I mentioned the term "beefsteak". The term was actually popularized by the Campbell soup folks who first canned tomatoes. (The soup came later.) They put one beefy tomato in each can and labeled them "Beefsteak". As a result, any big, meaty, red tomato has been generically called beefsteak. And yes, there really is a variety called the beefsteak.

One variety I used in last week's sauce was the Cherokee Purple. This is a medium sized fruit that turns almost black when real ripe, although it may have a green ring around the stem end. It is thin skinned and VERY juicy. It almost gets a smoky flavor to it. This variety is thought to be popularized by yes, the Cherokee Indians. It stayed in and around Tennessee for years until gaining popularity as an heirloom tomato.

Another common heirloom is the amazing Marvel Stripe. This is very recognizable in that it is a large, meaty tomato with irregular yellow and orange/red stripes. When sliced east-west it looks like an artist's palette. Very sharp looking when the slices are laid on top of any kind of salad. There are any number of these kind of multi-colored tomatoes, but the Marvel Stripe is the most common.

A general rule when it comes to these tomatoes is that big, red tomatoes tend to have that robust, meaty home grown flavor. Tomatoes that have an orange, yellow or even white tone to them tend to be milder in flavor. The other thing is that these tomatoes, most of which are organically grown, are grown locally and picked far riper than other tomatoes on the market. Given that, they are far softer than you are used to. And please don't give me that, "I want a firm tomato for this or that." Accept the softness as a price to pay for major flavor!

And if you are hooked on sugary, sweet tomatoes stick to dainty cherry tomatoes like the Sungold or Sweet 100. You see, these hunka-munka tomatoes were born long before our love affair with sugar. Tomatoes get their flavor from the balance between sugar and acid. And these heirlooms are better described as "full-flavored" rather than "sweet".

Expand your tomato horizons this summer by playing mix 'n match with some old-time tomatoes!