There is nothing better than fresh-from-the-garden veggies and fruits. Tomatoes are my favorite. This year, when I planted, I didn’t realize that I’d bought a few heirloom varieties. When my still-green tomatoes started showing an inky black circle around their tops, I got nervous, thinking they had some sort of blight. Turns out they are indigo sun tomatoes, and they are deliciously sweet. I’ve been using them in salads, and I dread the day I have to go back to store bought.
Last night, I made a sauce that my dear friend and cousin Lil taught me how to make on a trip to visit her at her shore house. My daughter walked into the kitchen while it was cooking and immediately exclaimed –“you’re making Lil’s sauce!” She dipped the wooden spoon into the tomatoes again and again until I had to tell her to leave some for the pasta. This particular daughter is much like me in that foods evoke memories for her, and the sauce reminded her of a lady she so loved. This tiny woman with a supersize spirit would step into her 10×10 beach cottage kitchen and make magic with five ingredients or less. And while she cooked, she’d tell stories about her life in Italy or her grandchildren. She’d talk of superstitions and saints while garlic would sizzle and pop and fill the small space with mouthwatering aromas. The impression such openness of spirit left on me and on my daughter will always live on in the recipes Lil shared.
Whether I’m making a small batch for dinner or a few bushels to jar, Lil’s tomato sauce, to me, is a Sonatina of summer. The simplicity of the sauce never ceases to amaze me. Simple and perfect, just like Lil was.
- 8C (approximately) roughly chopped fresh summer tomatoes (romas, preferably)
- 3T Olive Oil
- 1t Salt
- A handful of torn fresh Basil
Place all ingredients in a sauce pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Let the tomatoes boil for a few minutes, stirring once in a while so they don’t stick or burn.
Turn down to simmer and let the tomatoes cook for about an hour until they reduce by half. While they’re simmering mash them with a wooden spoon so the sauce is a chunky, pasty consistency.
NOTE – Lil didn’t measure. I don’t measure. These measurements are approximate, and, unless you drown them in oil, you can’t really mess up the tomatoes. Taste them along the way, and see if they need more salt or basil, to your liking.
You can use the sauce on any pasta, but last night I made a ravioli stack. Using store bought raviolis, I layered sauce, ravioli, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil. It was delicious.
- Large square Cheese Ravioli – fresh or frozen
- Lil’s tomato sauce (or any marinara sauce)
- Fresh Mozzarella cheese
- Fresh basil
While heating the sauce, cook ravioli as directed on package then drain. Ladle a layer of sauce onto a serving dish, then arrange a layer of ravioli. Place a slice of mozzarella on each ravioli and a piece of fresh basil on top.
Add another layer of sauce, another layer of ravioli, another layer of cheese, and basil. Top with one more ravioli and more sauce on the top. Sprinkle with Romano cheese.
We ate outside on the deck last night, and while we devoured the fresh sauce and pasta, the kids talked about our trips to the shore to visit Lil. They remembered playing cards and making meatballs with her. I remembered that she loved mango water ice and artichokes. In the middle of dinner, my little one said—“I miss Lil.”
I miss her too, but I take comfort in the memories she left. Her spirit lingers, dancing along the wafts of tomato and basil that fill my kitchen. Her laughter echoes subtly behind the clang of pots and pans. And, when I take a bite of fresh tomato sauce, a burst of brightness fills me. I close my eyes