Easy Summer Tomato Sauce

It’s a conundrum of summer – just when the harvest is at it’s peak, with vegetables ripe and ready to be stewed and jellied, sauced and preserved, it’s too hot to turn the stove on. I have a solution. I make slow cooker tomato sauce, and I have a few tricks beyond using a crockpot to keep things cool and easy in the kitchen.

The first thing to do is to turn the crockpot on high and pour in some good olive oil. Chop up some onion and toss it in. Let it cook while you’re dealing with the other vegetables. It doesn’t actually saute, but left in long enough (and in a newer pot that has a “high” setting,) you’ll get some browning and depth of flavor.

You can make a classic tomato sauce, with just the onions and tomatoes, but at this point in the summer, I want to use up some squash and maybe a carrot or two. Hopefully, a bell pepper will be ripe. Dice these vegetables as uniformly as you can. Stir them into the onions and keep cooking. Don’t add any liquid, but you can pour in a bit more olive oil if needed.

As much as I love homemade tomato sauce, I hate the task of peeling the tomatoes by blanching in boiling water. There’s all of that steam, and the ice baths to cool things, and the overall mess and heat of it. This year, I’ve discovered the soft vegetable peeler. I got it for the peaches, and it works beautifully on tomatoes!

It’s got a serrated blade and peels quickly and without waste. I am in love.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes. Set aside in a bowl. Go out to the garden and pick herbs. I have sage, oregano, basil and rosemary growing, which is a lovely combination for a sauce. Parsley is good, too. One of the reasons that people don’t bother with fresh herbs is the hassle of stripping the leaves from the tough stems and mincing. Well, in slow cooker, easy-peasey tomato sauce you don’t have to! Simply wash well and tie up with a string.

Here are the tomatoes (note that I’ve added unpeeled cherry tomatoes) and the herbs and a …. tea ball! I’ve put unpeeled garlic cloves into the tea ball. No mincing, no prep! Since the sauce simmers in the pot for hours, I’ll get plenty of garlic flavor with NO WORK.

Put everything in the slow cooker. Add a generous amount of good sea salt. Put the lid on, Reduce the temperature to low and leave it be for five or so hours.

When it’s finished, I freeze in plastic containers.The next day, I pop them out, and repackage in my very favorite summer tool, the FoodSaver vacuum packer.

Here I have a summer vegetable sauce, which this winter will find it’s way into a lasagna, or maybe pureed into a soup.


Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce

This is my answer to what to do with too many cherry tomatoes?


The brightest flavors in the home vegetable garden are often from cherry tomatoes. They are the perfect blend of acid and sweet, a burst of juice and a mouthful of fruit. I eat them like candy and toss them in salads, but at some point during the summer, I can’t keep up, and I am done with them. But I don’t want to waste a one. That’s when I cook them and make Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce.

Very little preparation is required. Wash and remove the stems. If you have a few extra plum tomatoes, quarter them. You can chop and onion, or peel a few cloves of garlic. Or not. Put all onto a baking sheet. This is my favorite heavy pan. It’s dark patina is from years of use with olive oil.

Pour on a glug of good olive oil –  enough to coat the bottom of the pan and make the vegetables glisten. Sprinkle on a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar. Dust on sea salt – don’t use cheap table salt. The salt flavor matters. Kosher salt will do. I have Sicilian Sea Salt that I brought back from Rome that I used for this. Delicious. My stash is almost gone. You can buy good salt at many markets and gourmet grocers. I’d like to go back to Rome, though to get mine!

Shake the pan so that the vegetables are evenly coated with the oil, vinegar and salt. Put it into a 300 degree F. oven. Bake for an hour, or longer. The tomatoes will burst and shrink and their flavors will concentrate.

You could put it through a food mill to get rid of the seeds and skins and have a concentrated tomato sauce. Or, use as is. Toss with cheese tortellini. I used it to top grilled swordfish steaks. Easy. Pure summer.

Leftover Pie Crust Cookies

Pie crusts become tough when overworked. After a quick forming into a ball and rolling out, I cut a circle, which leaves scraps of dough. Good, expensive, butter-dough. I could save them and make one more crust, but, rolling it again will ruin that perfect pie crust texture. What to do? I make pie crust cookies. I form the scraps into a ball and roll it out, this time in something like a rectangle. Then, I dust with sugar and cinnamon. Then I put a single-layer of something, pecans, or chocolate chips, or chopped apples – whatever I have leftover from pie baking, on the dough (leaving the edges empty.) Roll it up. Slice it like you would a sugar cookie log. It’ll look like rugelach. Place on a non-stick baking sheet (I always use parchment paper.) Bake in a 375 degree oven until lightly browning on the edges.

A baker’s well-deserved treat!

These are pecan pie-crust cookies.


Baked Beets

Here are beets bought at a farmers’ market.

Typical of a root vegetable, they’re a bit gnarly and off-putting. But beets are actually not difficult to prepare. Some people bake them, and then slip the skins off, but I find that peeling them first is easier. Any way you do it, the’ll dye your hands bright red. It wears off in a day, but I usually wear disposable gloves when I work with beets.

Isn’t this beet looking prettier already? I love the color.

I’m going to make baked beets, so I chop them and put them in a heavy baking dish. To ease clean-up, I enclose them in heavy foil. These are juicy beets, but I add two tablespoons of water anyway, to ensure that they steam as they bake.

Put the dish in a 350º F oven for 90 minutes.

I like to eat plain baked beets right out of the oven – they’re like vegetable candy. I like them chilled atop a green salad. I also like to dress them and eat as a side-dish. Beets pair particularly well with citrus.

Baked Beets with Orange Dressing

1 pound baked beets, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon grated orange zest (only if using an organic orange)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Whisk the dressing and toss with the beets.

Apple Bread Pudding

What’s for dinner? There’s not much in the house. The refrigerator is almost empty. There are basic ingredients in the freezer, but well, there’re all frozen.

I have two-thirds of a loaf of homemade bread a day past its prime.

Thanks to the Gems, there are eggs.

There are a few apples left from our visit to an orchard three weeks ago.

I’ll make a bread pudding, which is a fall-back recipe that everyone should have in their repertoire. This is what to do:

Cut the bread into cubes. If I toast them until dry the bread will hold it’s shape while baking. But, I like a soft custardy-custard, so I’m not going to bother with that step.

I put the batter ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk together. The basic proportions are: 3 cups of milk, 1/2 cup sweetener, 6 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

I use 1% milk. I actually like bread pudding made with lowfat dairy – cream is too heavy for my taste. For sweetener I combined honey and brown sugar, but this is flexible depending on the fruits used. Other times I might use sugar and maple syrup, or all white sugar. For Apple Bread Pudding, I’ll stir in a half-teaspoon of vanilla, too.

I get out 4 apples. I use my nifty hand-cranked gadget that, in a few turns of the handle, peels, cores and slices. I toss the apples in with the bread and add a handful of plump organic raisins. It all goes into a ceramic casserole. I pour the custard on top and press down so that the bread cubes are immersed in the batter. Let this sit so that the bread absorbs the egg mixture. Preheat the oven to 350ºF while the pudding rests.

While waiting for the oven to warm up, I take the apple peels out to the goats. My gadget makes long strands, which the goats like to slurp like spaghetti. This might be the best part of making Apple Bread Pudding. Notice Caper’s tail wagging with happiness.

Dust the pudding with cinnamon. Bake for about 45 minutes until the top begins to brown a bit and the custard is set. Lowfat milk batters are a tad watery and will take longer than if you use whole milk or cream. When you press on the surface you shouldn’t see any liquid ooze out. It should feel bouncy.

I’ve been reading diaries kept by a New York state farm family back at the turn of the last century. Supper was often what we’d consider dessert. They sometimes ate cream and berries for their evening meal, or had shortcake, or pancakes. This recipe, filled with eggs, which were precious back then, would have been an extravagance. But, they did love their ice cream, so I’ll have some, too.

Leave out the sugar, add cheese, and you’ll have a savory dinner, sometimes called a “strata.” No doubt I’ll be scrounging around the in the kitchen soon, thinking there’s nothing in the house to make for supper, when I spy the eggs and the bread and know that something easy to make and delicious is right there in front of me.