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The Bright, Fresh Tomato Sauce They Teach You First in Culinary School

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The first time I ever saw fresh tomatoes get turned into tomato sauce, it was a revelation. I was a teenager, and I stared at the fresh sauce as if I had lived in the desert my entire life and was seeing snow for the first time. The fresh sauce was vibrant, delicate, and light pink in color. It expressed the gentle sweetness and thirst-quenching nature of a ripe tomato.

The fresh tomato sauce gave me cognitive dissonance: I had previously known tomato sauce to be dark red, thick, found in jars, and purchased in stores. In my mind, the link between fresh tomatoes and jarred tomato sauce was opaque and purely theoretical. I had always just assumed that tomato sauce came from some unknowable combination of tomatoes, heavy industry, and magic.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

But the most exciting thing about fresh homemade tomato sauce is how easy it is to make. This sauce is one of the first things they teach you to make in culinary school (where they call it tomato concassé): It's empowering to break down full, raw ingredients like tomatoes, and you realize how simple and fun it is to transform them into sauce—something you may have once thought to be only attainable in jars at the grocery store. Simply score the tomatoes with a sharp knife, blanch them for about a minute in simmering water, and chill them in cold water to stop the cooking. At this point, you can easily peel the skin off and and discard it then dice the flesh of the tomato and cook it briefly in a saute pan to make the sauce.

If you have the time, discard not just the tomato skins but the seeds as well before you make the sauce. Set a fine mesh strainer over a mixing bowl, cut your tomato into quarters or eighths, and you can discard the seeds while simultaneously collecting the flavorful juice from the tomato. This liquid, known in professional kitchens as “tomato water,” is tremendously flavorful. If you add the tomato water and some butter to your saute pan with the diced tomato, your fresh sauce will taste rich and pure, like the essence of summer tomato season.

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Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

40f4e192 1d25 4f40 b8f3 90ea1bdb64f6  unnamed Josh Cohen

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Serves 2 to 4 people
  • 4 large beefsteak tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound of your favorite dried pasta
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 1 handful torn basil leaves

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Tags: fresh tomato sauce