Episode 24 – “Seeing Red”

Posted: December 8, 2014 in Season 2
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The 24th episode of Good Eats is all about tomatoes. Specifically, Alton Brown makes a case for the value of canned tomatoes in the pantry, arguing that fresh tomatoes should really only be used when they are in their peak season and locally grown. Why would one opt for canned tomatoes when fresh tomatoes are readily available in the produce department year-round? Alton points out that “fresh” does not necessarily equal “ripe.” I see his point, as a tomato purchased in December in Washington has not ripened naturally, but rather has been artificially ripened by exposure to ethylene gas. While these tomatoes may look shiny and red, they are often rock hard and lacking flavor. In contrast, with canned tomatoes, you know you are purchasing fruit that was picked when ripe. While nothing compares to a fresh tomato from your own garden, we pretty much  always have canned tomatoes in our pantry, as we often through them in soups, pasta sauces, etc.

I happen to be married to someone who does not much care for fresh tomatoes. Bizarre, I know. While he will eat tomato sauces, salsas, etc., he will pull tomatoes off of sandwiches and salads. Even more bizarre is the fact that my brother is the same way. Tomatoes were not my favorite thing when I was a kid, but I cannot get enough of the tomatoes that come from our garden. I suppose I will have to settle for the canned variety for several more months. Sigh…

Pantry Friendly Tomato Sauce

In this episode, Alton makes an all-purpose tomato sauce, using canned tomatoes. For making a tomato sauce, it is best to use canned tomatoes that have had the least cooking, which rules out pureed and stewed tomatoes. Crushed tomatoes are also not a great option, as they have many of their seeds, which can contribute some bitterness to a sauce. That leaves diced and whole tomatoes, and Alton opts for whole tomatoes because they are less processed than diced tomatoes.

Tomato sauce ingredients:  canned whole tomatoes, sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, onion, carrot, celery, olive oil, garlic, capers, white wine, Kosher salt, and black pepper.

Tomato sauce ingredients: canned whole tomatoes, sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, onion, carrot, celery, olive oil, garlic, capers, white wine, Kosher salt, and black pepper.

To start this recipe, strain your canned tomatoes into a saucepan.

Tomatoes straining into saucepan.

Tomatoes straining into saucepan.

Split the tomatoes open with your fingers and scrape the seeds into the drain, getting rid of as many seeds as possible.

Seeded tomatoes.

Seeded tomatoes.

To the tomato juice in the pan, add sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil. I had trouble finding sherry vinegar, but finally found it at a natural market.

Strained tomato liquid.

Strained tomato liquid.

Tomato liquid plus sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil.

Tomato liquid plus sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil.

Heat this tomato liquid over high heat until bubbles stack up and then reduce the heat to a simmer. You will want to cook this liquid until it reduces by 50%, and then remove it from the heat.

Reducing tomato syrup.

Reducing tomato syrup.

While your tomato syrup reduces, it is time to prep the mire poix, which is the classic French combination of onion, celery, and carrot. The ideal ratio for a mire poix is two parts onion to one part carrot and celery. Chop the carrot first, as it will take the longest to cook, and add it to a roasting pan set over two burners. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil, and let the carrot start to sweat while you chop the onion and celery.

Chopped carrot.

Chopped carrot.

Carrot in roasting pan with olive oil.

Carrot in roasting pan with olive oil.

It is ideal to cut the vegetables uniformly, so they will cook evenly. Add the onion, celery, and four gloves of garlic to the pan.

Onion and celery.

Onion and celery.

Mire poix in the roasting pan.

Mire poix in the roasting pan.

Chopped garlic.

Chopped garlic.

Alton simply smashed his garlic with a marble slab, but I opted to chop my garlic since I knew I would not be pureeing my sauce, and therefore did not want huge chunks of garlic in the sauce. Continue sweating the mire poix for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. At this point, add your tomatoes and capers to the pan and put the pan under the broiler.

Tomatoes and capers added to vegetables.

Tomatoes and capers added to vegetables.

Broil the vegetable mixture until the tomatoes start to caramelize, which should take 15-20 minutes. You will want to stir the vegetables every five minutes or so. When the vegetables are done, remove the roasting pan from the oven and add some white wine.

Vegetables after broiling.

Vegetables after broiling.

White wine.

White wine.

This will serve to release some alcohol-soluble flavors from the tomatoes, giving the sauce more dimension. Combine the cooked vegetable mixture with the reduced tomato syrup, add some black pepper, and mix. You may need to add some Kosher salt too, which I did.

Reduced syrup.

Reduced syrup.

Combined syrup and vegetables, plus black pepper.

Combined syrup and vegetables, plus black pepper.

Depending on the end use of your sauce, you can leave the sauce as it is, mash it lightly with a potato masher, or puree it completely. As we were to be eating our sauce over pasta, I took Alton’s recommendation to lightly mash the sauce, leaving it with some texture.

Completed sauce after light mashing.

Completed sauce after light mashing.

For a pizza sauce, or to cook meatballs in the sauce, you would want to puree the sauce to a smooth consistency. I served my tomato sauce over penne pasta, and sprinkled a little (okay, maybe a lot) of goat cheese over the top.

Tomato sauce over penne with goat cheese.

Tomato sauce over penne with goat cheese.

Ted and I thought this was a great tomato sauce. The vegetables gave it some texture, it was slightly sweet, had some heat from the red pepper flakes, and tang from the capers. As someone who frequently throws together pantry tomato sauces, this is one I will be adding to my repertoire. I will make this again, puree it, and freeze in batches for homemade pizza. If you are looking for an easy, healthy, year-round tomato sauce that tastes much better than commercial jarred sauces, be sure to give this one a go.

As a side note, I prepped my pasta for our dinner per Alton’s newer recommended method, which I mentioned in my previous pasta post here. Alton argues that there is no reason to boil water prior to cooking pasta. Instead, cover the dry pasta with cold water and put it on the burner, cooking until the pasta is al dente.

Dry noodles in pot.

Dry noodles in pot.

Noodles in cold water.

Noodles in cold water.

Al dente penne.

Al dente penne.

Really, after cooking pasta this way (I’ve done it a few times), I have to say that Alton is right; there really is no need to boil the water first.

Comments
  1. […] was curious to see how this episode’s tomato sauce would compare to Alton’s canned tomato sauce that I made over two years ago when I was writing up the second season of Good Eats. This episode […]

  2. […] Heat a cast iron skillet (I used a large non-stick skillet because we have a glass cook top) on the stove until it is hot enough to sear the meat, and sear the meat on all sides until browned. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, placing a 9×13″ pan inside with 3 C of tomato sauce (I used the Good Eats tomato sauce here). […]

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