Oct 7, 2010

"The Rest of the Story"

It's been swirling around in my mind for quite a while now. To be honest, it's been since the beginning of this blog about 9 months ago.

What exactly is the purpose of this? Is food something to be dwelled on as an attempt to distract us from some unpleasantries in our lives? Perhaps a connection can be made. A place where food, smells, methods, and traditions can take us that few other things can.

Memories. Distinct, treasured, wonderful.

The way I approach specific ingredients, smells, dishes, and preparation methods links me to something that I couldn't bear to do without. Memories of my grandparents.

This lucky girl was blessed with 3 sets of grandparents. My mom's parents divorced and remarried long before I was born, so I knew all six as nothing less than full-fledged grandmas and grandpas. This post isn't about all six of them, though I love them all dearly. It's only about two of them. My dad's parents: Grandpa Floyd and Grandma Jo.

Grandpa Floyd and Grandma Jo lived on a nice-sized plot of land. Just small enough so they could always call the grandkids in for lunch with the big metal bell which hung just outside the back door. Just large enough to provide a variety of excellent hiding places for hide-n-seek, bloody mary, and seven steps around the house. This land also included a large vegetable garden, which was my grandpa's project all summer. I spent some of my summer days helping Grandpa Floyd in the garden, and I owe him for all the garden knowledge I have. More precious than this knowledge are the memories that gardening brings to me. When I go to the local greenhouse, I remember our trips there to pick out seeds. When I taste a fresh carrot, I remember us digging them out of the garden, rinsing them off in a bucket of water and enjoying them right then and there.

Luckily, the brain does well with memories--especially those linked to smell. For this very reason, I grow tomatoes. Have you noticed that tomato plants themselves have a smell? It is fresh, light, and yet a bit humid. Every single time I got into my garden and smelled the tomato plants, I was taken back to my childhood and all the great things that went with it. I did more work with the tomatoes than any other plants in my grandpa's garden, mostly because he was color-blind and couldn't distinguish red from green. This not only provides difficulty for traffic lights, but also picking tomatoes. He and I were always happy to work together to pick all the ripe tomatoes and bring them in to Grandma. And if it was around lunch time, Paul Harvey would be playing on their kitchen radio. And Paul would agree with me, that this indeed is "the rest of the story".

The Process

Let's just skip over the part where I acknowledge how long it's taken me to finally finish this topic. Here is how I turned my san marzanos into sauce.

Step one, you find the first tomato of the season and celebrate a little bit. Come on, that's one cute tomato.

Next, you gather your batch of tomatoes. Remove the stems and wash them. (Note to self: remove the PGA championship parking pass from the picture next time)

Gather whatever seasonings you'd like to use. For some batches, I used fresh basil and oregano from my front porch. Other times, I did straight-up tomatoes. Both were great.

Next, bring a pot of water to a simmer. Place 7-8 tomatoes in the water at a time, and wait for the skins to "pop", like this one. Place on a cookie sheet until the tomato cools down. Peel the skin off and discard.

Run the tomatoes and seasonings through a food processor until the desired consistency is reached. Some batches I opted for chunky, others super smooth.

Add the pureed tomatoes to a pot (my dutch oven worked great for this!) and simmer on med-low heat for several hours or until desired thickness is reached. For most of my batches, I reduced the sauce by half to really concentrate the flavors.

Lastly, admire your sauce.

I made quite a bit of this, and now my freezer is full to the brim with san marzano sauce to use in late fall and winter. I've only sampled it once on pasta and it was delightfully simple. This weekend there are plans in the works to turn it into pizza sauce with the help of some carrots, onion, and celery finely pureed and sauteed.

Well, that is mostly all I have on this topic. I'm sure you are well-aware of my strange obsession with a local pizza place that honors these tomatoes. That obsession played a large part in my decision to grow these plants. For the final decision factor...you'll just have to wait.