Fresh tomatoes are the best gift of summer. As a small girl, I spent many summers with my grandmother at her house in the country. For lunch she would go out to her garden and pick a big ripe tomato and make us a tomato sandwich with swiss cheese and mayonnaise. I can still taste the sweet ripe tomato warmed from the sun. Ever since then, I always look forward to the variety of fresh tomatoes available in the summer.
This year our landscape designer, Jill Harris, built a square foot garden where I could grow my favorite summer vegetables. It is amazing how much such a small area can produce. In my garden this year I had 3 different types of tomatoes– San Marzano, roma and yellow cherry tomatoes as well as several basil plants. Usually I pick only enough to eat for that day. Today the tomatoes seemed to be growing at an accelerated pace and the basil was starting to seed. All of the sudden I had A LOT that needed to be harvested. So what was I going to do with all those tomatoes, especially the little cherry tomatoes? Jill suggested making a tomato sauce. I also had a few heirloom tomatoes that someone had given me last week that were too soft for a salad so they were candidates for my sauce.
I haven’t made a marinara sauce before from scratch with fresh tomatoes. I decided to experiment by using lots of fresh fragrant basil from my garden. Most marinara recipes have you peel the tomatoes before you chop them. I didn’t have any interest in peeling the tomatoes. With all the cherry tomatoes, it just wasn’t practical so I put all the tomatoes in the sauce with the skins on. The real secret to this sauce is the balsamic vinegar and touch of red wine vinegar. With all of the sweet tomatoes, the fresh basil and the vinegars, the finished sauce reminds you of a caprese salad, except with a little kick (the red pepper flakes). The sauce takes a little time to prepare. It took me a little over an hour to the final cooked sauce. I think it is best if you let it sit a while before it is served so that the flavors fully develop. My Marinara Caprese Style is perfect just over linguine or you can add slices of grilled chicken breast or grilled shrimp. It makes a lot so there is plenty to put in jars for another day or to share with a friend.
Marinara Caprese Style
1/4 cup good olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
8 – 10 cloves of garlic, minced
4 lbs. or so of fresh tomatoes – a mix of heirloom, roma, yellow cherry tomatoes or whatever is available
1/2 cup fresh basil, julienned
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. sugar
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp. tomato paste (preferably San Marzano brand in a tube)
2 tsp. very good balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
salt and pepper
In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic together over medium or medium low heat until translucent and soft, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Chop the tomatoes and half the cherry tomatoes. When onions and garlic are cooked down, add all the tomatoes, basil, oregano, sugar, tomato paste, bay leaves and salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat and stir frequently, breaking up the tomatoes as they cook down. When tomatoes start to break down, stir in the balsamic and red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes and continue cooking for about 45 minutes to an hour. Taste to check for salt and pepper and whether more vinegar is needed based on your preference.
The sauce will be a little chunky and will have some tomato skins, so to smooth it out, use an immersion blender to break the sauce up or put in a food processor and pulse a few times to your desired consistency.