Ever wanted to start a garden, but didn’t know where to begin? Ever envy the bountiful harvest your neighbors amass in their backyards while yours is a food desert?
Well, it all stops here and now. Welcome to my new column, “Fresh from the Garden” where I’m going to share gardening tips and fresh recipes with you to prove just how easy it is to grow your own food. And real food is worth the effort. In fact, cooking with fresh ingredients will change everything you thought you knew about cooking.
Take tomatoes. Let’s say you know how to make a primo (that’s “awesome” in Italian) tomato sauce using canned tomatoes. You want to make a homemade sauce, just like Grandma Rosalie, but now you have gorgeous, fresh, homegrown tomatoes. You proceed to prepare your recipe like you always have and well... Let’s just say the family isn’t as thrilled with your new venture as you had anticipated. Why not?
The sauce was too light—couldn’t cling to a noodle if it were the last one in the bowl. Hm. And if your family is a brazen sort like mine, they might dare to voice aloud that it tastes more like salsa (at which point you have my permission to thump them with your wooden spoon). That kind of talk is uncalled for. Sheer blasphemy!
Unfortunately, they’re right. I prefer a nice light sauce. It’s fresh, healthy and 100% delicious. But my husband is Italian. Red sauce is like gravy to him, and should be rich and thick and utterly memorable. Translated: I needed to kick my fresh-from-the-garden tomato sauce into shape.
Mind you, cooking with fresh tomatoes versus canned is more labor-intensive. First you must peel them. Easiest way to accomplish this task is to blanch the ruby red beauties. Simply boil the tomatoes for 30 seconds, or until the skins begin to peel away, then immerse them in ice-water. Next, remove the seeds. I grow the plum variety of tomatoes, because they’re thick and “meaty” and easier to work with when it comes to removing the seeds. You’ll do so by using your thumbs and pushing the pulp and seed down the length of the tomato and into an awaiting dish. Don’t toss them into the garbage or compost. You’re going to want to save those babies for spring planting!
Okay, it’s time to cook your peeled, seeded tomatoes. This is where it gets hazy. No serious Italian chef is going to reveal their sauce recipe to you. They’ll barely taste each other’s sauce, let alone divulge their own heirloom recipe. It’s as top secret as the location of the Chalice of the Last Supper. But since I’m only Italian by marriage, I’ll share my technique with you.
To keep things in perspective, amounts given would suffice for a recipe calling for 2-28 oz. cans of tomatoes. This equals about 3 dozen fresh tomatoes. You’ll need approximately 2 TBSP olive oil, 1/2 sweet onion, 3 - 4 cloves garlic (minced), 1 TBSP (each) fresh parsley (Italian flat) and/or oregano, basil—whichever you prefer. Oh, and don’t forget the bay leaf.
Begin by heating your olive oil over medium heat and sautéing your onion until soft. Add your garden garlic, and sauté until the fragrance is released—about 30 seconds. Any longer and the garlic will taste bitter. Quickly toss in your tomatoes, followed by the herbs of your choice. At this point, I’ll sometimes slip in a 1/4 cup of red wine. Bring pot to a boil, then turn down to simmer for several hours, stirring occasionally. As the sauce cooks, you’ll want to incorporate an ounce or two of tomato paste to thicken the mix. You’ll also want to salt the sauce to taste. Unlike canned tomatoes, there is no added salt in fresh tomatoes. But tread lightly! You’ll want to embrace the garden flavors in your sauce. Once you do, you’ll realize you don’t need much salt, if any at all. Told you it would change everything you thought you knew about cooking!
A trick to sweetening the sauce is to place a freshly peeled carrot in the pot during the simmer process, then removing it before serving. Another option is to skip the sautéed onions and instead, submerge a whole, peeled onion in the pot while it’s simmering. Toward the end and prior to serving, remove the onion. During the last moments before serving, you can add grated Parmesan if it suits you, even butter. Both are good. Just remember, sauces are as unique as family crests, so feel free to experiment until you find the perfect blend for YOUR family.
Because you’re going to become a gardener and grow your own tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs, this sauce will taste like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. You will become a believer in real food, not cans purchased from the grocery store. Buon appetito!
Meet the Author
Award-winning author D.S. Venetta lives in Central Florida with her husband and two children. It was volunteering in her children’s Montessori school garden that gave rise to her new series Wild Tales & Garden Thrills, stories bursting with the real-life experiences of young gardeners. Children see the world from a totally different perspective than adults and Venetta knows their adventures will surely inspire a new generation to get outside, and get digging.
When not crafting her next novel, D.S. Venetta hosts a garden blog, Bloominthyme.com, where she demonstrates just how easy and fun gardening can be! Additionally, Venetta has been featured for her gardening advice on various websites, including GalTime, EarthEats, eHow, IdealHomeGarden, Huffington Post, and the cookbook Earth Eats: Real Food Green Living. Passionate about organic gardening, her dream is to see a garden in every school, library, and community.
Thank you to Dianne Venetta for sharing these great gardening tips with us today. As another "Italian by marriage" I truly loved your post today! I learned how to make homemade sauce for my husband and really enjoyed learning his mother's recipe.
Dianne will be back sharing her gardening tips with us the 2nd Wednesday each month. Hope you all can stop back to check out her helpful tips.