Tomato Ragu

Tomato Ragu
Recipe type: Sauce
This recipe is one of the most useful for dealing with a surplus of mid-summer vegetables. It can be made – indeed, it should be made – in large amounts, and then can be canned or frozen for future use. Only the broad outline of the recipe is going to be provided; like many other recipes in this Oakmont Farmers Market newsletter, the idea is to provide a solid and basic recipe that can be adapted as needed to utilize seasonal market farm products. The recipe will provide an outline of amounts, but those are ultimately up to you, as is the ingredient list. What this recipe provides is the cooking process that guarantees a good result; I have made variations of this recipe for many years and each and every one has been delicious, although each and every one differs based on what is available at the farmers market.
  • 4 (or more, if you wish) cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 or 3 carrots, peeled and cut in a ¼ inch dice
  • 2 or 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 pounds of Italian sausage (optional; can be omitted for a vegetarian sauce)
  • Olive oil for sautéing
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • Herbs: you can use dried or fresh herbs, but if using the latter make sure that you add them at the end of the sauce-making, otherwise they lose their flavor. I prefer a mixture of dried and fresh, and use dried oregano, thyme and rosemary with fresh basil and fresh parsley. Be careful of the amounts of the dried herbs, since they are stronger in flavor and can overwhelm the dish. Two teaspoons of oregano, one teaspoon of rosemary leaves and one-half teaspoon of thyme should be sufficient. Then add a half-cup of chopped basil and a quarter-cup of chopped parsley about 5 minutes before serving.
  • Tomatoes – several pounds of fresh tomatoes
  • A mixture of vegetables from the market: zucchini, green and red peppers, green beans, eggplant, etc. You decide the amounts of each depending on the flavors you prefer in your stock. For instance, I prefer to have fewer strong-tasting vegetables (peppers) and more neutral ones (zucchini) in order to highlight the flavor of the tomatoes. I would use the following proportions, depending on what looked good at the market:
  • 3 or 4 medium zucchini
  • 4 Japanese eggplant or 1 large or 3 small purple globe eggplants
  • 2-4 medium-size sweet peppers
  • 1 quart (or 1 pound) green beans
  • 6 or 7 pounds (or even more!) fresh tomatoes
  1. Prepare your ingredients in the order you will use them, except for the tomatoes and the eggplant, since they require a cooking step before they are added to the sauce. Skin, seed and chop the tomatoes before you prepare the pasta sauce. To skin tomatoes, drop them into the pot of boiling water for about a minute. Lift out with a slotted spoon and cut into the skin with a sharp knife; you should be able to then peel the skin from the flesh very easily. Cut in half and squeeze gently with the cut side down over the sink; the seeds and interior liquid will pop out. Then place on your cutting board and chop into a one-inch dice. Put in a large bowl and set aside until you need them. For the eggplant, cut into a ½ inch dice; if you are using Japanese eggplant you can easily do this by slicing them lengthwise into quarters and then cutting them across in ½ inch increments. If using the larger globe eggplant you can cut lengthwise into slices, then slices into ½ inch wide strips, then cut those crosswise into ½ inch dice. The globe eggplants, if they are large, will then need to be salted for ½ hour; this removes the bitter tannin flavors. If the purple glove eggplants are small they won’t have developed those flavors and you can omit that step. The Japanese eggplants are sweeter and do not require salting. You will need to rinse the salt off of the eggplant cubes and then dry the eggplant carefully before cooking. To prepare the eggplant for the ragu, sauté the cubes in olive oil in a large frying pan until they are lightly golden on all sides and then drain on paper towels.
  2. Prepare your aromatics for sautéing. Dice/chop/etc. each of the vegetables, and cut the sausage out of the casing and chop into ½ inch cubes.
  3. Heat a very large sauté pan or sauce pot on medium heat and pour about 3 tablespoons of olive oil into it; when the oil is warm add the garlic. Sauté for several minutes, but do not let the garlic become brown. You are aiming for a golden shade. Then add the onions and the carrots, and sauté until the onions are translucent (5 minutes). Add the sausage, celery, and bay leaves and sauté for a further 5-10 minutes, until the sausage is uniformly cooked through.
  4. While the sausage etc. is sautéing prepare your other vegetables. Each should be cut into a ½ dice and set aside separately in bowls.
  5. Once the meat is sautéed thoroughly, add the peppers and zucchini to the pan and sauté for 4 or 5 minutes. Then add the beans and the eggplant and cook for another couple of minutes. Finally, add your tomatoes and thoroughly stir the mixture. Make sure the heat is on medium and watch the pot to make sure the sauce does not boil too vigorously or burn; if the bottom of the pan burns your sauce will have a terrible flavor. The trick to a tasty sauce is slow cooking.
  6. After the sauce has cooked for about an hour (you should stir it every ten minutes or so) add the dried herbs. Continue to cook on medium-low for another hour or two. You may need to add some fluid to the pan if the sauce becomes dry; you can add water, stock, or tomato juice. The sauce is finished when the top develops a sheen; it’s not an oily sheen, but a slight shine; it will also smell like an integrated sauce rather than of tomatoes and separate vegetables. At that time, add salt and pepper to taste, and add your fresh herbs. Give the whole pot a good stir and cook for a few more minutes.
  7. It is now ready to be served over pasta or frozen, canned, or used as a sauce base for other dishes, from lasagna to casseroles. Enjoy!