It's spring here in New York City, and I couldn't be happier about that fact. As soon as temperatures rose above 50 degrees, I retired my winter jacket--perhaps a bit prematurely--and immediately starting craving spring/summer crops like strawberries and tomatoes. Also somewhat prematurely. While the strawberry plants on my deck will probably bear fruit within a few weeks, my tomatoes won't even show their first flowers until June. For the moment, it seems, I'll have to make due with the produce available in my local grocery store. That explains how I, ever powerless to resist or even wait out a craving, found myself with a bag of sub-par supermarket tomatoes last week. I wanted tomatoes, and I got tomatoes.
So how to best utilize an ingredient, like the tomato, that when purchased at the store is almost always woefully lacking in the flavor department? The key is to try your darnedest to deepen and enhance what flavor is already there. In the post I just linked to I suggested slow-roasting tomatoes in order to do just that; and today I'm going to share a fresher, faster alternative to that method. What I did with my most recent batch of wan tomatoes was to make a no-cook tomato sauce that sits at room temperature, marinating undisturbed for as long as your hunger can hold out, increasing in lusty flavor all the while. What you do is dice tomatoes and plop them in a bowl along with minced garlic, shredded basil, a generous amount of salt and a good glug of olive oil (use your best; you'll really taste it here).
This recipe, as you might notice, is pretty much exactly what you'd pile atop toasted bread and call bruschetta (it's just as good with pasta). What happens is that the salt draws out a lot of liquid from the tomatoes, and as the liquid goes, you taste the fruit's flavor more. Same theory behind roasting any fruit or vegetable. In this instance, that liquid mixes and mingles with the olive oil in the bowl, making a sort of dressing that nicely coats the pasta that you will cook and add in. And the warmth of that pasta will heat up the garlic just a little bit, taking away some of its raw edge but leaving a nice spicy bite behind. So until you can get your hands on some nice, fresh, locally grown and seasonal tomatoes, try this move on your everyday tomato and tell me that it doesn't make the waiting that much easier.
No-Cook Tomato Sauce
4 plum tomatoes or 2 larger tomatoes, cut into a small dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
A generous handful of basil, cut or torn into thin strips
2 servings of dried pasta
1. Combine tomatoes, garlic, basil, salt and olive oil to taste in a bowl. Let sit at room temperature for a minimum of 20 minutes and ideally for at least an hour.
2. When you're ready to eat, set a pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta to al dente, drain, and add it to the bowl of sauce. Toss to combine, check for seasoning, and serve.