Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You Say "Tomato", I Say "Puttanesca!"

It's late autumn and the Northern California tomato harvest is winding down quickly.  Heirloom, cherry and dry farmed tomatoes are still available at some farmer's markets but soon they will vanish completely, leaving tomato lovers bereft of the luscious "pomme d'amour" until the ripening of next summer's crop.

To prolong the pleasures of tomato season, each fall I amass a collection of dry farmed tomatoes, which keep well in the fridge and are intensely flavorful eaten raw or cooked. Inevitably, some ripen quickly which is why I'm simmering a pot of sugo alla puttanesca, the legendary spicy Italian tomato sauce whose name is challenging to translate (I'll leave that to the experts) and whose origins are subject to much amusing conjecture. 

Whatever the linguistics, puttanesca is delicious, simple to make and requires just a handful of ingredients. Most recipes for puttanesca call for a combination of fresh or canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, olives, capers and hot red pepper flakes; anchovies are frequently added too. There are many regional and family variations on the theme, but with good quality ingredients, anyone can make a terrific sugo alla puttanesca to enjoy far into the winter months when vine ripened tomatoes are but a dream.

My own New Jersey/ California fusion rendition takes only minutes to assemble and does not need lengthy cooking.  Don't hesitate to improvise on this recipe to suit your own taste.

Sugo Alla Puttanesca


2- 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2- 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1- 2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/3 cup olives, pitted and chopped
sea salt to taste

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Add onion and garlic and saute until fragrant. Add canned tomatoes and about half of their juice. Using a large spoon or potato masher, crush the plum tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add fresh tomatoes, red pepper flakes and basil. Partially cover and simmer the sauce on low to medium heat until fresh tomatoes are just tender, about ten minutes. If there is too much liquid allow sauce to simmer uncovered for a few more minutes. Stir in olives, taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and allow to rest briefly before serving.  Sauce can be frozen for later use. If stored in fridge, sauce will keep for several days.

Serving suggestions:
Sugo alla puttanesca  will pair perfectly with your favorite steamed, sauteed or roasted vegetables, cooked grain or pasta.