Tomate fresca

Sauce Tomate

And finally we arrive at the last of the five Escoffiere French Mother sauces – Sauce Tomate.

Tomate fresca
Tomate fresca

Tomatoes aren’t often associated all that much with classic haute French cuisine, but they wee indeed on the scene, as we noted with sauce Espagnole. Here again, we have a clear cut case of adoption of a great ingredient from the neighbors. All that considered, the roots of the tomato plant may not hail from where many of us think they do. I’ve heard a lot of folks claim that the Europeans, specifically the Spanish, brought tomatoes to North America – that’s more or less correct, but in a very round about way – The Aztec people, who ate and cultivated tomatoes as far back as the eighth century, are actually where the Spanish got tomatoes from, in a very nasty manner.

Tomatoes are far more diverse than we might realize. There are tens of thousands of variants cultivated all around the world – there’s even a Siberian one designed to be grown indoors. There are thirteen recognized wild species, and probably well more than that – There is much we do not yet know of their area of origin. Of the known wild species, three will readily cross with domestic varieties, and nine more can do so with certain caveats.

But I digress – Back to the Spanish. The horror show that was Hernan Cortez and the Spanish campaign destroyed all things Aztec from 1519 to 1521. Cortez took seeds from what was called, in the Nahuatl (Aztec), language ‘xitomatl’ seeds back to Spain, where they were called tomate, and the European introduction was made. Spain’s relatively temperate Mediterranean climate agreed with the tomato, and cultivation began forthwith. Yet for roughly a hundred years, tomatoes were grown purely as an ornamental crop – the Spanish though they were pretty, and adorned their tables with bowls of reddish fruit – It would not be until the early 1600s that they began to actually eat them.

Tomatoes spread quite rapidly across Europe. Italy began tomato cultivation in the mid 1500s, but didn’t eat them until the late 1600s. England, and subsequently the North American colonies, received seeds around 1600, but wouldn’t eat or cook with the fruit until the mid 1700s. The problem, of course, was the tomato’s family ties.

Solanum lycopersicum, AKA the tomato plant, belongs to the family Solanaceae, AKA Nightshade. When we hear the word Nightshade, we assume bad things, but the fact is this family is incredibly broad, sporting everything from herbs and vines to shrubs, trees, and even epiphytes. Many variants are cultivated, (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and chiles, for instance), even some of the ones that contain potent and highly toxic alkaloids. Others, like Deadly Nightshade (Atropa Belladonna), not so much.

In any event, once folks got the clue that tomatoes not only could be safely eaten, but were downright delicious, culinary experimentation got underway. It became readily apparent just what the tomato was especially good at – Their high liquid content, coupled with a natural ability to thicken when cooked without the need for adjuncts, (like a roux, or bread crumbs), made them a shoe in for sauces. Care to give that a test? Chop up some good fresh tomatoes, preferably from your garden, and sauté them over medium heat with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, until the raw tomato smell dissipates. Eat them warm, maybe with a hunk of fresh bread and a glass off decent red.

Boom – Any questions?

Some 300+ years later, tomato sauce in one form or another is found everywhere, and widely claimed as indigenous dish, or a favorite import. A veritable cornucopia of good things are added to the root fruit to make sauces – water, wine, stock, veggies, other fruit, nuts, meat, poultry, and fish, bean curd, and many more – a veritable pantheon of tomato versatility.

The French version, as championed by Escoffier, is quite different from most other variants you might be familiar with – In addition to the usual suspects, Escoffier included pork belly, veal stock, a ham bone, and a roux. Those deceptively simple adjuncts yield a sauce of surprising depth and complexity. It’s not a sauce you want to use all the time, given the added calories and potential for clogged arteries, but it’s a real treat for a special occasion.

For our recipe, I’ll call for canned tomatoes, since that’s what we have to work with most of the time. I prefer whole tomatoes, because it’s my belief you get more flavor from them. If you don’t have a stick or conventional blender, (Gods forbid!), then you can certainly sub crushed or diced. If it’s that time of year for fresh tomatoes and you’re of a mind to use them, you’ll want 8-10 cups.

If you get a sudden wild hair to make this stuff and don’t feel like a trip to the store, bacon will work just fine as a sub for belly and bone; just add a tablespoon of good olive oil to compensate and you’re good to go.

Sauce Tomate
2 28 ounce cans Whole Tomatoes, (or 8-10 cups fresh)
4 Cups Veal Stock, (Chicken is fine)
2 Cups diced Onion
1 Cup Diced Carrot
1 Cup diced Celery
2 Ounces Pork Belly
1 Ham Bone
1 clove Garlic
2 tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Flour
8-10 Black Pepper Corns
3-4 sprigs fresh Parsley
1 Bay Leaf, (Turkish preferred, California is fine)
1 sprig fresh Thyme, (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
Sea Salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 300° F and set a rack in the middle position.

Combine the pepper corns, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine – This is your bouquet garni.

Bouquet Garni
Bouquet Garni

Cut pork belly into 1/2″ cubes, (lardons).

In a cast iron Dutch oven over medium heat, sauté the pork belly until the fat is liquified and rendered free.

Pork belly renders much more fat than bacon
Pork belly renders much more fat than bacon

Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Sauté until the onion is translucent but not browned,about 3-5 minutes.

Mire poix - 50% onion, 25% each carrot and celery
Mire poix – 50% onion, 25% each carrot and celery
Onions just turning translucent
Onions just turning translucent

Remove tomatoes from cans and pulse with a stick blender in a non-reactive mixing bowl until they’re evenly crushed but not liquified, (or process in a conventional blender). If you’re using fresh, just rough dice everything you’ve got, removing tops and bottoms, of course.

That's a lot of fresh tomatoes...
That’s a lot of fresh tomatoes…

Add tomatoes, ham bone, stock, a pinch of sea salt, and the bouquet garni to the Dutch oven, and mix with a large spoon to incorporate. Stuff the bouquet down into the middle with your spoon.

Sauce Tomate ready for the oven
Sauce Tomate ready for the oven

Allow the sauce to come to a simmer.

Add butter to a microwave safe measuring cup and melt. Add the flour and combine to form the roux. Ladle a cup of liquid from the sauce into the measuring cup and blend thoroughly with a fork. Add this to the sauce and stir to incorporate.

Transfer the Sauce to the oven. Reduce oven heat to 250° F, and cover with the top just slightly cracked. Roast for 2 hours.

Roast for 2 hours, top slightly cracked
Roast for 2 hours, top slightly cracked

Remove the sauce from the oven and uncover.

Sauce Tomate
Sauce Tomate

You can leave the sauce rustic, or give it a few pulses with a stick blender if you prefer a smooth consistency – just don’t forget to fish out the bouquet and the bone in either case!

You can now use what you need and allow the rest to cool to room temp prior to freezing.

Use the sauce straight, add additional stuff, or create a daughter sauce if you like – Barbecue, calamari, creole, Espagnole, and a la Vodka are all made therefrom. Here are a few of those to set you on your way.

Penne with Sauce Tomate
Penne with Sauce Tomate

Sauce Creole
2 Cups Sauce Tomate
1 Cup Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup fine diced Green Pepper
1/2 Cup diced Green Onion
2 Tablespoons fresh Basil leaves, cut a la chiffonade
1 teaspoon Oregano
1 teaspoon Thyme
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
2-3 shakes Tabasco Sauce
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Unsalted butter
Sea Salt to taste

In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and butter and heat through.

Add the green pepper and onion, and season lightly with salt. Sauté until the onions start to brown slightly.

Add the tomate sauce, stock, basil, thyme, oregano, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, and stir to incorporate.

Bring the sauce to a simmer, then reduce heat to just maintain that.

Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Taste and adjust seasoning as needed or desired.

Serve hot.

 

Sauce a la Vodka
2 Cups Sauce Tomate
1 Cup heavy Cream
1/4 Cup Vodka
1/4 Cup fresh Basil leaves, cut a la chiffonade
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 clove Garlic, minced
Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste

In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through.

Sauté the garlic until it begins to brown lightly.

Add the vodka to the hot pan and scrape all the little dark bits free with a fork.

When the booze smell has dissipated, add the sauce tomate, and basil and stir to incorporate.

Season with a pinch of sea salt and 2-3 twists of pepper.

Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.

Bring heat back up to medium. When the sauce is simmering vigorously, add the cream and stir to incorporate.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Sauce is now ready to be ladled over and tossed with fresh pasta, or cooled to room temperate and frozen for future use

 

Sauce Calamari
2 Cups sauce Tomate
1/2 Cup Red Wine
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red Chile
Sea salt
Black Pepper

In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and heat through.

Add the garlic and sauté until it become to brown slightly.

Add the Ted wine to the hot pan and scrape all the little dark bits from the pan with a fork.

When the raw alcohol smell has dissipated, add the sauce tomate, and crushed chiles.

Season with a pinch of sea salt and 2-3 twists of pepper.

Reduce hat to maintain a bare simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Serve hot, or allow to cool for freezing.

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