Yesterday I hurriedly retrieved the last of the tender summer vegetables from our backyard garden. The bright, cloudless sky made it hard to reconcile the meteorologist’s forecast of a 40 degree temperature drop in a matter of hours as a significant winter storm blew in over the mountains.
Life at high altitude promises weather extremes, but as I feverishly pulled up bok choy and composted past-its-prime arugula and surveyed the many green tomatoes so far from ripe, I longed for just a few more weeks of “autumn”. By evening we’d picked most of the tomatoes and any salvageable jalapeños, fashioned a plastic-covered hoop house to protect our small patch of green beans and carrots, and tented an old bed sheet over one part of a garden bed in a last-ditch attempt to extend our lettuce’s growing season.
Soon a frigid wind blew down from the Rockies, rushing over the foothills and battering our garden. By 4 A.M. when our toddler announced, “Naptime over” and proceeded to headbutt me in the cheek until I stumbled from bed, snow blew in gauzy sheets and I consoled myself with a cup of extra-strong Corvus coffee and the thought that we’d had a good run as Colorado gardeners this year. No major hail storms, minimal pest destruction, and a three-season garden. Not too shabby for a person who grown up at sea level about 30 minutes from the southern coast.
As the snow abates this afternoon here along the Front Range , I wanted to take a moment to share a recipe I created a few weeks ago when the cold Colorado months seemed far off. For those of you with tomatoes still ripening on the vine, collect a big bowl of your pretty and banged up fruit and try your hand at homemade pasta sauce.
While I’ve made sauce in years past, this is the first time I attempted the feat with produce from my own garden. It’s also the first time I used a tomato press (akin to a food mill). You can certainly make tomato sauce without a food mill by blanching tomatoes to remove skin and scooping out tomato seeds by hand. Both processes ensure a less bitter sauce. However, the food mill offers speed and efficiency, two qualities I need now that I have less time in the kitchen for lazy afternoon food experiments. With a food mill, the tomato skin and seeds go down the waste chute while your juice sluices down another chute to be collected for your recipe.
It was heartening to watch five pounds of tomatoes yield just over two and a half cups of sauce. As I threw the unusable pulp into our compost bin, I wagered with the squeaking squirrels eying me from their backyard evergreen perch that we’d find at least five volunteer tomato plants in our garden next year. The squirrels twitched their tails and scampered off, probably to plan how best to tear through the wire cover protecting my precious garlic patch this autumn and winter. (Insert image of Gwynne shaking her fist at those contemptible neighborhood squirrels.)
Below you’ll an easy, squirrel-free marinara recipe to try when you want the taste of your garden tomatoes in sauce form.
Homemade Marinara Sauce
Makes 2 1/2 cups
– 5 lbs tomatoes, cut into chunks and run through a food mill (I used my Black from Tula Heirloom and Japanese Black Trifele Heirloom Tomatoes.)
– 5 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 tsp dried basil
– 1 tsp dried oregano
– 1 tsp sea salt (or more to taste)
– 2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
1. Place the liquid from the milled tomatoes into a medium saucepan along with garlic, herbs, salt, and oil. (You’ll have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce.)
2. Cook over medium heat until boiling and then lower heat so that sauce can simmer until slightly thickened. I had very juicy fresh tomatoes, so I simmered the sauce for an hour before it thickened to my liking.
3. When finished, you can either store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week or use immediately for your pasta sauce.