Tomato season is in full swing at the Santa Monica Farmers Markets and one of my favorite things to do with peak season tomatoes is make homemade tomato sauce. Maryann Carpenter of Coastal Family Farms (at the Wednesday and Saturday Downtown Markets) grows a variety of tomato that is perfect for making tomato sauce. The Costoluto Canestrino is an Italian variety of tomato that cannot be found in the United States. Chef Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s Good Food and owner of Angeli Cafe, brought these tomato seeds to Maryann from Italy nine years ago because she could not find them anywhere and asked Maryann to grow them. Maryann has been growing and saving the seeds after each season ever since. Costoluto Canestrino tomatoes are meaty and not watery, have a nice sweet flavor, and cook up nice and thick, all essential elements for making a good tomato sauce. They are a long, red tomato and sometimes have greenish shoulders, even when ripe, and are not uniform in size.
I love to make tomato sauce, but peeling and seeding tomatoes is so tedious that sometimes I get lazy and skip that key step, which does not bode well for my sauce. This year I finally went out and purchased a tomato press, a tool that separates the skin and seeds from the meat of the tomato and makes things a whole lot easier. A food mill would probably also work. Following the instructions on the tomato press, I cut a small hatch mark at the bottom of each tomato and boiled them for about 30 seconds to loosen the skin. I removed the tomatoes from the boiling water and drained them in a colander. Then I cut the tomatoes in half or quarters, depending on their size, and cranked them through the tomato press. In one bowl I caught the flesh and juice of the tomatoes and in the other the skin and seeds. Then I was ready to cook my sauce! I sautéed some chopped onions in several tablespoons of good olive oil over low heat until they were translucent, then added a few cloves of minced garlic and cooked it just a bit longer. Then I added my tomatoes, brought it to a simmer, and seasoned with salt and pepper. The tomatoes look thin and watery at first, but don’t worry, they will thicken over time. Let your sauce simmer uncovered and cook down until it is nice and thick. This could take anywhere from about one to two hours. When the sauce is about done, taste it for seasoning and add a generous handful of chopped basil – basil at the Farmers’ Markets is beautiful right now. At this point you can enjoy your sauce immediately served over pasta, freeze it, or jar it so you can enjoy delicious summer tomatoes all winter long, and give it to friends and family as a holiday gift. Imagine having holiday shopping taken care of in September!
Special Note: The chili roaster is back! Every Saturday in September at the Pico Farmers’ Market, the chili roaster will be roasting peppers and chilies from the Farmers. The Pico Farmers Market is located at Virginia Avenue Park at Pico and Cloverfield Boulevard and is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.