Inspired by our trip to Italy this penne al pomodoro is made with farm-fresh Roma tomatoes and sweet basil.
We arrived home very late Friday night bleary-eyed and with that weird feeling of being so tired yet wound-up at the same time – I guess that’s what 24 hours of travel will do to you. Despite exhaustion, we popped up out of bed bright and early Saturday, thanks to our body clocks being set six hours ahead, and decided to walk to the farmer’s market to buy some tomatoes – it seemed fitting to make penne al pomodoro, a simple pasta and tomato sauce, in celebration of our trip to Italy.
We got lucky at the market and found a box of roma tomatoes, snatched it up, and then carried the 25-pound box the three miles home. Who knows what we were thinking? Oh, wait, I know – after just one day we missed the simple tomato sauces from our trip so much that it was worth it to lug all of those farm-fresh tomatoes home to cook up.
I’ve made tomato sauce many times before with canned San Marzano tomatoes, which is my go-to choice year round, and I’ve made a few sauces with fresh cherry tomatoes. Since I was using romas this time I wanted to take the time to peel and core them, but I’ve read a lot of conflicting opinions about whether or not peeling is necessary. Some think it messes up the texture of the sauce, some think it makes the sauce better, and some say it makes no difference whether you peel the tomatoes or not. I figured it was the right thing to do, so I did.
The tomato prep part of the operation took a couple of hours. After scoring the bottom of each tomato (makes it easier to peel them) I worked in batches to blanch the tomatoes by dropping them in boiling water for about 30ish seconds or so. Once they were cool enough to handle I peeled them and cut out the cores.
What I loved best about the penne al pomodoro dishes we ate in Italy were their simplicity. No bells or whistles – just great, fresh ingredients prepared in a simple way. I wanted to replicate that so I cooked my tomatoes long enough to break them down, but not so much that they lost their fresh taste. Because the tomatoes didn’t have a long cook time I added just a touch of sugar to balance the acidity. That along with some olive oil, salt, and fresh basil was all I added to the tomatoes.
Once the sauce was ready I packaged up most of it to freeze (hello, fresh tomato sauce in October!) setting aside just enough to toss with some hot penne for our late Sunday night dinner.
I feel like we have a little bit of our trip saved in our freezer – a fresh and bright sauce to bring out on nights we want to re-live our days at Lake Garda.
Ugh, I miss our vacation already.
When tomatoes are at their peak in summer this is a great sauce to make and freeze to enjoy long after the warm weather has passed. It's incredibly simple, but fresh and full of wonderful flavor. 20ish pounds of tomatoes will get you 20 (1/2 cup) servings of sauce, but you can easily halve this recipe if you don't want to make as much.
2 hrPrep Time
2 hrCook Time
4 hrTotal Time
- 25 pounds fresh roma tomatoes, washed clean
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 - 3/4 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- Cooked penne pasta
- Using a paring knife, score the bottom of each tomato with an "x". Bring a large pot of water to a boil and submerge the tomatoes for 30-45 seconds. Depending on the size of your pot you may need to do this in batches. Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl (I used a roasting pan). Once cool enough to handle, peel the skin of each tomato. Using a paring knife cut out the cores and discard.
- In a large stock pot (I ended up using two and split the tomatoes) heat the olive oil over medium heat. Squish the tomatoes with your hands to break them up a bit before adding to the pot. Be sure to add all of the liquid from the pan or bowl that the tomatoes where in. Bring the pot to a simmer and let the tomatoes cook for an hour and a half to two hours, or until they start to break down. Stir the tomatoes periodically and use a wooden spoon to break them apart.
- I prefer a smooth sauce so I used my immersion blender to puree the tomatoes once they were cooked. If you like a chunky sauce you can leave them as is.
- Add the sugar and salt to the tomatoes. Let the sauce simmer for another 10 minutes or so and taste it periodically to check the seasoning. Add more salt (a little at a time!) if needed.
- Stir in the chopped basil and serve with penne
- Makes 20 (1/2 cup) servings
This recipe makes about 20 servings. I like to freeze sauce in servings of four using freezer bags. I pour the sauce into a quart-sized bag, seal it, and then store all of the quart-sized bags in one large freezer bag to prevent any spills.
You can certainly doctor this sauce by adding garlic, onion, carrots, or whatever you want. I wanted to keep it very simple and it's delicious as is.