In college I was lucky enough to have an apartment with a kitchen. As you well know, I love to cook and I had two roommates that loved to eat. But of all the meals and desserts I prepared, the one dish that always reminds me of those years is something I came up with out of necessity.
Pretty veggies from the garden that went into this sauce.
The summer of my 19th year my dad had seeds for beautiful yellow pear tomatoes and he decided to plant all of them. My parent’s patio was full of these potted tomato plants and as it turned out, they were prolific producers. When harvest season began, my mom gathered basket after basket of these tiny tomatoes and delivered them to neighbors and even gave them to whomever dropped by the house as a way to stay abreast of the bounty. And when I left for school later that summer I, of course, had a box of them in tow.
The tomatoes ended up sitting in our apartment fridge for a while becoming soft and mushy until I realized that I had to use them or toss them. Since I’m not one to be so wasteful I took out the biggest pot we had and minced all the garlic in the apartment, diced up some onions, and halved the tomatoes. I tossed all the ingredients in the pot with a good glug of olive oil and some salt and left it to simmer away. Around an hour later the flavors had melded together and the flesh of the tomatoes fell out of their skins and had become a glorious sauce. I tossed this sauce with some spaghetti and watched my roommates dig into their bowls relishing every bite. It was so good that I begged my parents for more of those tomatoes and made enough sauce to fill half of our apartment freezer and keep us poor, starving, college students away from the instant ramen and boxed mac ‘n cheese.
Over the years I haven’t changed the recipe much, just finishing the pasta in the sauce and adding whatever I have on hand that needs to be used. Sometimes it’s some basil, sometimes it’s mushrooms, and a few weeks ago it was summer squash. The trinity of small sweet flavorful tomatoes, tons of garlic, and some onion remains the same.
Tastes like College Tomato Sauce: Makes enough for 8-12 oz of uncooked pasta
- 1/2 head of garlic minced
- a good pour of extra virgin olive oil around 2 tbsp
- 1 medium onion chopped
- around 2 pounds of small, sweet, very ripe tomatoes (this sauce taste best when you use a mixture of different types of in season ripe tomatoes)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 large summer squash diced (optional)
- Pour olive oil into a saute pan large enough to hold the sauce ingredients and the pasta you intend to use, heat over medium flame.
- Once oil is heated but not hot enough to burn the garlic, add the garlic. Stir until it becomes fragrant and a very very light brown.
- Add the onions and stir until they just begin to soften
- Add tomatoes, stir to combine and check every 5 minutes or so until they release their juices and come to a boil. Add some salt (I like to start with a 1/4 tsp and taste and then add more if needed). Turn heat down and let simmer, slightly covered, for an hour or so until the sauce has thickened and smells so enticing that you can’t wait any longer. If using summer squash, add it after 40 minutes since we don’t want it to get mushy.
- While the sauce is simmering bring a pot of water to boil and season with salt.
- Once sauce is finished, boil the pasta until it is half way cooked. This usually means cutting the cooking time in half. I like to taste the pasta as it is cooking and I remove it once it has softened but still retains a crunch in the middle. When the pasta has reach this stage, add it to the sauce with 2-3 ladles of the pasta water. Continue to cook over medium heat tossing the pasta around in the sauce until the pasta is al dente and has absorbed much of the liquid of the sauce. Serve with tons of pecorino romano and dig in.