In high school, I dated a guy who didn’t like tomatoes. Really. I thought it was strange, too, and it’s no wonder that we broke up. After all tomatoes are like family to me, and cutting into the deep red heart of one at this time of the year is a pleasure I never tire of.
I read a lot of writing on food, and one trend I love lately is the non-recipe recipe. These are the recipes that home cooks like me are using all the time without any physical words attached, without our noses stuck in books, wondering if we are making it correctly. They are things that are endlessly adaptable, and use ingredients and imagination that are immediately at hand.
Tomatoes are particularly well suited to this idea since a perfectly ripe tomato needs no adornment at all, except maybe salt and good, fresh ground black pepper. I say that cautiously, since a plate of sliced tomatoes drizzled also with olive oil and maybe scattered with some basil is wordlessly amazing. (As is replacing the olive oil with browned butter
: There is the star salad of your next dinner party, right there.)
One tomato gem I dance around every year is a raw tomato sauce. Generally, I use it when I’ve just made a huge tangle of fresh pasta, and garden tomatoes are at their prolific peak of production. But this year, my garden is a miserable mess of poor soil and struggling plants, and I’ve relied heavily on farmer’s markets and neighborly kindness for the best tomatoes of my eating season. This non-recipe recipe is something to keep in mind when you have an hour or two before dinner and you want something fresh and delicious. You can add or subtract to your liking, and any leftovers travel well in a tightly lidded canning jar for lunch the next day.
Raw Tomato Pasta Sauce
Tomatoes - cherry, heirloom or a mixture
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- garlic (see discussion below)
- olives - I like Outpost's Olive mix with Chiles, but any quality olive will do
- peppers, if you like, hot or sweet, cut into fine cubes
- cheese - a hard grating cheese like pecorino or Parmesan, or soft cheese like fresh mozzarella
- herbs - basil, thyme or oregano (fresh), use dried herbs sparingly and taste for appropriateness (I really love Aleppo pepper)
- anything else laying around that needs using... the salt will tenderize other raw veggies like zucchini if you let it sit for several hours.
Mix everything in a bowl and let sit at room temperature for an hour or two until dinner time. If making in advance, don't add the fresh herbs and/or cheese until last minute to preserve their flavors.
You can vary the texture of your sauce by leaving the tomatoes as coarse or finely chopped as you like. I prefer using cherry tomatoes of various color, and simply slicing them in half – but I also like large tomatoes chopped up fairly fine, and I never bother to skin them.
Another mention of critical importance to this sauce is the garlic. Lately, I’ve taken to thinly slicing garlic in pretty much everything I cook and the technique works well raw too. Finely chopped garlic is bitter and strong whereas sliced garlic benefits from the gentle treatment. Sliced garlic allowed to hang out with acidic tomatoes mellows and isn’t overwhelming at all… but if you like a strong garlic bite, first mash the garlic together with a bit of salt and then enough olive oil to make it distribute easily throughout the salad.
So long as you let your tongue be your guide, you can’t go wrong with this salad. I boiled some pasta and packed sauce and noodle separately for a picnic this past Sunday. I had mixed most of the ingredients the day before, and added basil and fresh mozzarella just before leaving the house. If given the opportunity, the salted tomatoes will make their own juice (which you can drain off and use in something else, like soup or bloody marys, or chalk up to an extra, end-of-bowl bonus to sop up with your bread).
Any way you look at it, raw tomato sauce can’t go wrong – and I’m sure it will make a way into your personal non-recipe file for years to come!