Spaghetti love: Harvest those tomatoes and sauce them up

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters
RUTLAND BITES

According to my girlfriend, nothing beats spaghetti and meatballs. Unless, of course, it’s accompanied by a glass of red wine and desert includes homemade ice cream. It was her birthday last week, and I happily spent the day cooking a few of her favorite foods.

It was perfect timing to cook up a big pot of sauce and meatballs. No, it wasn’t a cool fall day for simmering something warm on the stove. But we continue to have a ridiculous amount of tomatoes hanging about, and the only thing that makes spaghetti and meatballs better is when you grew the tomatoes in the sauce yourself. I don’t do so often enough, yet fresh tomato sauce is fantastic. The tomatoes slowly break down in the pot after hours of gentle heat and create such a wonderfully fresh texture you’ll never find replicated well in a jar or can.

If you can still find some fresh tomatoes, and I’m betting you can with the season we’ve had, don’t wait to bring them home and save them for your next pot of sauce. Just throw them in the freezer until you’re ready. In fact, that’s the easiest approach. That way, when you want to use them, instead of having to boil a pot of water to remove the peels, you can simply rinse the frozen tomatoes under warm water and they’ll slip right off.

When you don’t have access to fresh tomatoes, the next best option is whole peeled tomatoes in cans. I used to always go with crushed tomatoes, but I find that the consistency is never consistent. Whole tomatoes, whether fresh or canned, break down for a similar texture. The fresh just have a better flavor. Fresh herbs, however, are a necessity. Dried won’t cut it.

This simple recipe, adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s “Foolproof Preserving,” may also be canned for long-term storage. Omit the vinegar from the sauce and instead, add two tablespoons vinegar to each pint jar. Follow all canning best practices and process pint jars for 35 minutes in a water bath.

Fresh tomato sauce
Makes enough sauce for about two pounds of pasta

  • 10 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can tomato paste (6 ounces)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar, or more to taste

Add half of the chopped tomatoes to a large pot or Dutch oven. Purée the other half, in batches, in a blender or food processor until smooth but still slightly chunky. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. Sauce should have reduced and thickened.

The other reason why it’s good timing for spaghetti and meatballs is because the Vermont Butcher Shop just opened their Rutland location. Run by a local farmer and local chef, the Vermont Butcher Shop is Vermont’s only sustainable whole-animal butcher. They’re committed to Vermont’s working landscape, animal health and quality. I’m thrilled they’ve opened their third location right here in Rutland and are open seven days a week. As I’ve mentioned quite often, I don’t eat meat on a daily basis. But when I do, I want to support local farms that ensure their animals live healthy lives. The owners and staff are friendly and more than happy to tell you about the farms and cuts of meat.

I used a mix of pork and ground beef in these meatballs, as well as a good amount more of fresh herbs. The combination of meats and herbs, and a little mustard, creates a ton of flavor. If you’re not making pasta, you could eat them with a side of vegetables, over rice or in a sandwich. Or make a big batch and freeze them before cooking.

Pork and beef meatballs
Makes about 40 meatballs

  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1 small bunch of fresh parsley
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup of milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the leaves from the rosemary, oregano and parsley stems. Roughly chop the herb leaves. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground meats with the herbs, breadcrumbs, milk, eggs, mustard and a couple of pinches of salt and pepper. Use your hands to combine the ingredients. If the meat mixture seems dry, add in another splash of milk.

Divide the meat in half, then into quarters. Each quarter should be enough for about 10 average-sized meatballs. Use your hands to roll them out, placing them on a lined baking sheet as you go.

When finished, place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the meatballs for about 20 minutes or until browned. Remove from the oven and add them to your pot of sauce.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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