Tomato Growing 101:
Tomatoes are pretty much the easiest vegetable/fruit to grow at home. Given the right soil, some direct sun with afternoon shade and a lot of water just about any tomato plant will produce at least some tomatoes during the growing season in pots or in the ground. I have read step by step instructions detailing how to set up indoor self-watering tomato growing buckets in Alaska so when I say anyone can do it, ANYONE can do it.
I have found that cherry/grape tomatoes grow best in buckets/pots but you will never get as many tomatoes from a potted plant as you will get from one in the ground (though you will get something). Varieties like the Italian Roma thrive when they have got a bit more sun and heirloom varieties like “Mr. Stripy” do better with a little more shade. The optimum planting time is around June 1st in this part of the world, but a little later in the month won’t really hurt. You can even try them indoors if you have a window with enough sunlight and read up on how to self-pollinate the flowers properly.
This year in my urban vegetable garden I planted over 25 tomato plants all of which grew thicker and taller than any other year I have grown them here. I stalks all split off into multiple vines, some of which are well over 8 foot tall/long. They require such little care to thrive and produce what we in the gardening world call a “shit ton” of tomatoes all summer long.
I use my garden tomatoes all summer and winter long making and canning things like tomato salads, bruschetta (Italian salsa) and of course tomato sauce. Homegrown tomatoes have an infinitely deeper, richer and sweeter flavor than anything you will buy at a store (even organics) and are well worth the minor effort it takes to grow them especially when combined with other simple garden items like cucumber and eggplant, herbs like basil, oregano and parsley.
Go play in the dirt, its fun:
Homemade Pasta w/ Fresh Garden Tomato Sauce
Firstly I should say: I am not Italian nor am I Italian American.
I did not have family pasta dinners on Sunday when I was growing up and I did not learn how to make pasta from my mother or grandmother. These facts I am sure are in the minds of some going to automatically turn people off to this recipe. I understand that before I even begin. I know that at least a few personal friends of mine will be kind of offended that I am even breaching the subject of the iconic pasta and red sauce. That I am trespassing on sacred ground as an unwelcomed outsider.
What is it about pasta that inspires such a reaction in people? I feel free to write about Asian, Indian, Mexican foods etc… why is there a looming hesitation when it comes to something as simple as pasta and sauce? I may never fully understand the reasons behind such a reaction because, as I said, I am not Italian and that’s ok.
This recipe is a hard won victory of sorts, not only because of the cultural walls imposed but because as a kid I thought I didn’t LIKE Italian food. I grew up in the suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s and to me as a kid Italian food meant utilitarian pizza delivered to my house and overcooked pasta swimming in canned red sauce at restaurants. Heavy and oily eggplant parm. Frozen veil cuttlets in too much breading.
It was not until I started cooking for myself and reading up on the subject that I came to see that I do like Italian food (as in FROM Italy) and what I thought of as “Italian Food” as a kid was really low grade Italian AMERICAN food. Not unlike the experience I had with “Chinese Food” as a young adult assuming that stuff you got from the take out place in town was authentic when it was really anything but. I realize too that those classic Italian American dishes (when they are done well) are total comfort food to a lot of people and they make them feel happy and safe but I just really don’t like them. For me, they are heavy, overdone and really not very exciting.
I have had the good fortune to have a number of Italian American friends in my life and met a few VERY interesting people from Italy itself and I hope not to offend any of them here but there is a world of difference between what I thought was Italian food as a kid, what MANY people still think is authentic Italian food locally and what actual Italians eat in modern day Italy. It’s an interesting cultural divide and a fantastically diverse food culture to explore on both sides. I might not ever understand what it is to be an Italian OR an Italian American but that should not stop me or you from enjoying what both have to offer us in the kitchen.
This recipe is short on ingredients but high on equipment. You can of course substitute the homemade pasta for a high quality dry pasta or buy some “fresh” pasta from Wegmans (in the cooler section). There are an endless number of permutation of this recipe that can be explored such as meat sauces, meat balls, sausage, different cuts of pasta, different types of dough (whole wheat etc).
This is just a basic framework that you should feel free to expand upon and make your own. The versatility of the pasta cutter alone (given the right attachments) is enough to keep anyone experimenting continuously with different sauces and types of pasta. But Spaghetti and Red Sauce will never get old or go out of style. Enjoy.
You will need:
6-10 Fresh ripe tomatoes (depending on size)
1 cup White Flour
1 cup Semolina Flour
4 Eggs (Brown Organic is best)
3 Cloves Garlic
1 Yellow (sweet) onion
1 Can Tomato Paste
Salt & Pepper
Special Equipment Needed:
Pasta Machine (cutter)
Pasta Drying Rack
Food Mill/ Food Ricer
Sift the two flours into a large mixing bowl with a dash of salt and combine. In the center create a well and crack in the four eggs and a few drops of oil and mix into a dough. Add water as needed. It’s important to get the texture just right, it cannot be too dry (crumbly) or too wet (sticky). The dough must be firm and able to hold its own shape. Once the texture is correct cover and let sit for at least a half hour.
Divide the rested dough into 4 or 6 sections and roll them through the zero (largest) setting of your pasta maker a few times adding more flour to the dough, folding it over and running it though the machine repeatedly to add density and to kneed the pasta. Then take the finished dough sheets, lightly dust them with flour and place them on the pasta rack to dry for about an hour/hour and a half.
Once the sheets have firmed progressively run them through your pasta machine to thinner and thinner thickness (I usually go from “one” down to “three” and if the dough is still a little wet you can rest it on the drying rack before cutting) then cut them to the length you want your final pasta to be and then run the sheets through the cutter on your pasta machine to the style pasta you wish to make (Spaghetti is pictured).
If your pasta maker does not cut the pasta into defined strands the dough is too wet. If your pasta maker does not grab the pasta and or it crumbles the dough is too dry.
Place the cut fresh pasta on the drying rack and let sit about an hour.
Cut all the tomatoes into small pieces and process them through your ricer/mill separating the pulp and juice from the seeds and skins. Discard the seeds and skin.
Mince the onion and garlic and in a sauce pan on a medium heat fry them in a generous amount of olive oil until they begin to color then add in about half the can of tomato paste (the more paste you use the more tart the sauce will be) and stir. Add in the tomato juice/pulp and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and leave uncovered until the sauce begins to reduce, stirring often for 20-30 min.
Roughly chop the fresh basil and oregano and add to the sauce near the end of its reduction time along with salt and pepper. It’s important to add these near the end of the process so the sauce does not get over seasoned as it reduces.
In a large pot about half full of salted water (and a splash of oil) boil the fresh pasta for about 4-5 min being careful not to over cook the pasta, it should be slightly underdone. Drain the water and over a low heat add in the sauce slowly taking care not to put in too much sauce but just enough to coat the pasta. Stir until the pasta is covered and starts to absorb the sauce. Remove from heat and let sit (covered) for about 5 min.
Using tongs plate the pasta in a swirl on a plate or wide shallow bowl leaving a little well in the center (like a birds nest), fill the well with a little more of the fresh tomato sauce and top with fresh grated parmesan cheese. Serve with a thick crusty Italian bread.
J.Nevadomski (also known as Juda) is an accomplished musician and artist from Rochester. He has recorded with musicians from all over the world for his project “The Fragile Path” (which he heads and produces) and is a veteran artist who’s paintings have been featured in galleries, newspapers and exhibitions throughout the Rochester area. In 2012 he was the “artist guest of honor” at RocCon: Rochester’s Anime, Sci-Fi and comic book convention. He lives in the NOTA area of Rochester, keeps a yearly urban vegetable garden and regularly cooks and hosts dinner parties for friends and colleagues.