My annual tomato canning marathon has just ended and it's time to start enjoying them. The end of August/beginning of September marks the canning season, but with Labor Day so late this year, I ended up canning in mid-September. I have been canning regularly for about 10 years, except for one year when I got to the greenmarket too late. All of the good tomatoes were gone. It was a very long winter and I have never made that mistake again. I have learned to negotiate for my boxes of tomatoes in mid-August. Many people can their homegrown tomatoes, making it an economical way to have fresh, preservative-free tomatoes throughout the winter. With purchased tomatoes, it may not be the most economical ounce for ounce, but it certainly is the healthiest and tastiest.
My husband's Italian nanny taught me how to can tomatoes. Years ago, she and her neighbors on President Street in Brooklyn, used to assist one another with their homegrown tomatoes. One day, everyone would do her tomatoes, and the next, another neighbor, until everyone had their own tomatoes packed away for the winter. Living in an apartment makes it impractical to grown my own, but luckily we have access to many nearby farmer's markets.
With 100 pounds of tomatoes, usually I have everyone get into the act; nanny, my husband and my daughter. This year, with my helpers curiously too busy, I enlisted my own neighbor. He was perfect - enthusiastic and naive. After 5 hours of back-breaking work, he was unsure whether he would do it again next year. But once we were finished, I made him a tomato sauce that nanny taught me how to make and he was sold. I hope...
SUNDAY TOMATO (GRAVY) SAUCE WITH PORK
One quart (or large can) of whole peeled plum tomatoes 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 6 links of Italian sausage, each cut in 3-4 pieces 4 country-style pork spareribs (boneless) 1 ½ cups dry red wine 8 large basil leaves 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (if available, toss in rind) 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper or to taste
Break up the tomatoes with your hands or in a blender with a couple pulses. Set aside. Heat oil in a large heavy bottomed pot on medium heat. Once it is hot, saute the garlic for about 20-30 seconds. Add meat and stir together. Check heat to make sure the garlic does not burn (if it does, you must discard it and start again). Season the meat with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, turning as necessary. Add wine and scrape up any bits that are forming on the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium/low and continue to cook uncovered until the wine is reduced by half, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes. The amount of time will depend on the size of your pot and your individual stove, so keep cooking if it appears to need more time.
Once the wine is reduced, add the tomatoes with an equal measure of cold water and raise heat to medium. Partially cover the pot, allow it to come to a boil (watch out for splatters), then reduce the sauce to a simmer. Simmer for a least a 1/2 hour. At this point, the smell will permeate your kitchen and the sauce will start to look like it has combined.
Add 6 of the basil leaves, the cheese and salt and pepper. Continue simmering sauce until it is no longer watery and has reduced by half. This takes about 45 minutes. Once the sauce is thick and reduced, cover and continue simmering for as long as 2 hours, occasionally stirring. During that period, if the sauce becomes too thick, add more water - a 1/2 cup at a time. The spareribs are ready when the meat breaks apart with a fork.
To serve, remove the meat to a serving platter. Then, combine some of the sauce with a pound of hot pasta. Finely chop remaining basil and sprinkle over the pasta in the bowl. Serve extra sauce for passing at the table. Have a wedge of Parmesan cheese and a grater handy. And, don't forget the bread.