Eat Pray Love the Food You Eat In Maine This Summer
Like so many women in America, I saw Eat Pray Love last night, the new film based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s blockbuster memoir of the same name. There were a few guys in the theater, but this is a chick flick is ever there was a chick flick. Watching Julia Roberts traipse through Italy made me very very hungry. I won’t go into a full-scale review of the movie (suffice it to say that Julia Roberts is WAY too big and recognizable a star/celebrity for me to believe for even a second that she was really “suffering” from all that angst), but the food sure was gorgeous.
When Julia Roberts/Elizabeth Gilbert is in Rome and sits down to her first bowl of pasta, perfectly swirled with a fresh, chunky tomato sauce, every woman in the audience swooned. When the waiter dusts freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top of that pasta it’s a great moment of food porn. Javier Bardem, who later becomes her love interest, receives an equal amount of ooh’ing and aaah’ing, but that’s another story. Let’s stick to the pasta.
In a world where women (and many men) try so hard to control what they eat, where counting calories and excessive exercise is so rewarded in our thin-obsessed society, it was good to see a film where food is portrayed as something good for the soul. (The scene in which Roberts is in an Italian dressing room trying to fit into new “fat” jeans is simply absurd.) I could see/feel the women next to me chewing on their butter-less popcorn as if it might possibly give them the same kind of pleasure that the pasta was providing for Roberts on the big screen.
The truth is that if you want real taste you have to eat real food. As Elizabeth Gilbert learned so well, the Italians fully understand this way of thinking/eating. The idea is to eat food that is fresh, full of flavor. Eat in moderation, but enjoy your food. Eat and pray that you will love what you’re eating enough to let it sustain your soul and your body.
One need not take a trip to Italy at this time of year to eat well. This is, quite possibly, the best time of year to eat in Maine. Gardens and farmers markets are overflowing with gorgeous fresh tomatoes, squash, fresh herbs, vegetables of every size and shape. Not to mention the fruit — the peaches, the late berries, the pears and apples — dripping from local trees and bushes.
In honor of making the most of the harvest and eating and loving delicious real food, here are two of my favorite end-of-the summer tomato recipes. The first is for a thick, chunky, traditional, slow-simmered sauce, made with a variety of garden tomatoes, garlic, slowly sautéed onions and herbs. The second recipe for my other favorite tomato sauce, a tried and true sauce that reduces the cooking time and the hassle of peeling the tomatoes can be found in one of my earlier blog posts. Both recipes demand garden produce and can be refrigerated for up to a week, frozen in tightly sealed plastic bags for up to six months, or canned (process the jars for twenty minutes) and kept for up to a year.
When you pour this rich, savory sauce on top of pasta (or grilled chicken or fish) eat it slowly. Enjoy it. Don’t think about calories or how you’ll starve tomorrow. Think about how good it tastes, how lucky we are to be in this bountiful time of year.
Slow-Simmered Tomato Sauce
You’ll need a few hours to make this luscious sauce, but most of the time the sauce will be simmering while you’re off doing something else. Use a good variety of garden tomatoes — I like to use at least three or four varieties, since some add sweetness and others are more acidic — to create a well-balanced sauce.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
4 cloves garlic, 2 finely chopped and 2 thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 10 pounds fresh garden tomatoes
½ cup finely chopped parsley
½ cup finely chopped basil
Touch of sugar, as needed
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water.
In another large pot, heat the oil over low heat. Add the onions, half the garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook, occasionally stirring, for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, place a few tomatoes at a time in the boiling water for about forty seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and immediately place in the bowl of ice water. The shock of the hot/cold causes the peel to separate from the tomato. Remove from the ice water and, using your fingers, remove the peel from the tomato. Core and chop the tomatoes, and set aside. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes.
Add the chopped, peeled, cored tomatoes to the onions along with the remaining garlic, parsley and basil. Let cook, uncovered, over low heat for about two hours. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper as needed. If the sauce tastes acidic add a touch of sugar.
You now have a thick, chunky sauce. This is the way I like to serve it, full of thick bits of tomatoes, onions, and herbs. You can leave the sauce as is, or (after the sauce has cooled for about fifteen minutes) place half, or all, of it in a blender or food processor and puree until somewhat chunky or almost smooth. Place in the refrigerator, freezer bags, or process the sauce in canning jars as described above. Makes about fifteen cups of sauce.
There are so many flavors you can add to this sauce. Think of it as a basic tomato sauce and add any or all of the following, or keep it pure and simple:
· For a spicy Puttanesca sauce, add: 1 cup drained capers, 6 anchovies, about 3 tablespoons anchovy oil, and red chile flakes to taste.
· For an olive-flavored sauce, add: another 2 tablespoons olive oil when the sauce is done and is off the heat along with 2 or 3 cups pitted black and/or green olives, coarsely chopped.
· For an herb-flavored sauce, add: 1 cup chopped fresh thyme, sage, oregano, and/or rosemary during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
· For a super-garlic sauce, add: 6 cloves garlic to the sauce instead of 4. Roast a whole head of garlic by placing it in a small ovenproof skillet in a 350 degree oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cloves feel soft when you press them with your fingers. Remove, let cool a bit, and then squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skin and into the sauce during the last 30 minutes of cooking.