Transforming Tomatoes & Baking Pasta

baked-pastaThis is a tale of two culinary possibilities: turning a classic pasta dish into a pizza of sorts and how to save your summer tomato surplus without having to resort to canning. I’m all for canning, mind you, but it’s a lot easier to throw something into a bag than can it. The fact that you can combine these two possibilities is the…um…cheese on the pasta. (The savory version of “icing on the cake.”)

Freezing tomatoes and then making sauce with them months later – or, as in my case, 18 months later because I’d forgotten that I’d stuck my 2010 batch in my mom’s cavernous downstairs freezer – is ridiculously easy. First, wash and thoroughly dry the tomatoes, then trim off the stems and plop them into a gallon freezer bag. Freeze them.

When you want to use them, put the frozen tomatoes in a large stockpot, fill the pot with enough water to cover the tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Let the tomatoes boil for about 3 minutes or until the skins start to look wrinkly. Poke one of them with a knife tip to see if the skin will easily jostle away. (This might take up to 5 minutes of boiling.) Use a slotted spoon to carefully lift the tomatoes one by one into a large bowl. Give them a few minutes to cool, then grab each one with your fingertips and let the inner flesh slip out, leaving the skin behind. Spill the peeled tomatoes – and any juice/water that dripped out of them – back into the stockpot. Mash the tomatoes with a potato masher. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and let them gently simmer on medium-low heat for at least 20 minutes to concentrate their flavor and get rid of some of the water that will inevitably be in them as a result of the freezing process.

Voila! You have a lush, garden-fresh tomato sauce that you can use however you’d like. Note: if you want a chunky sauce, wield your masher with discretion. If you want a velvet-smooth sauce, run the sauce through a food processor to get all the lumps out. You’ll never have to curse a summertime tomato excess again! (I realize this is a tad out of season, but I thought I’d mention it now so that it sticks in the back of your head for the next six months and prompts you to look forward to an overabundant garden. Now that I know how easy it is to transform frozen tomatoes into a rich sauce, I’ll get a few extra plants this summer!)

Baked Pasta (with Homemade Marinara)

If you’re making homemade marinara:

1 large onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, chopped

1 T. balsamic vinegar

Several pounds of fresh or frozen tomatoes OR at least 1 lb. of canned tomato sauce; if you use fresh or frozen tomatoes, follow the steps above to remove the skins and make your own sauce

At least 1 T. dried Italian seasoning OR 1 T. total of any/all of the following: thyme, oregano, rosemary, basil, parsley, marjoram, sage

Sea salt

With the marinara (homemade or store-bought), include:

Whole-grain pasta of your choice (I used corn spaghetti in mine)

Hard Italian cheese such as Parmesan or Asiago, grated

Preheat oven to 350F. If you’re making your own marinara, heat a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 1 minute, then add onion. Cook for 5 minutes or until onion is soft and starting to turn golden brown. Stir in garlic and balsamic vinegar and continue to cook for another 2 minutes or until garlic is fragrant. Add tomatoes, spices, and a pinch of salt. (If you’ve made your own tomato sauce, you’ll need to use more salt; store-bought sauce has a fair amount already.) Gently simmer sauce over medium-low for at least 20 minutes to let the flavors marry. This is one you can walk away from: assuming you have a nice low simmer and not a furious boil, the sauce can chug merrily along without your supervision.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Toss pasta with sauce and place on an oven-safe plate. Top with grated cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melting and turning golden brown.

Leftover marinara can be refrigerated (in glass containers, please – plastic ones can leach when subjected to acidic tomatoes) for a week, or freeze in a suitable container for as long as you like. I like to use my leftover marinara as a dip for everything from crackers to shrimp. Or put it on scrambled eggs. Or serve with chicken, or even stir into chili. Homemade marinara has endless uses…including as pizza sauce, which was also put to good use in the previous post about Tuna Fish & Spinach Pizza.

Enjoy!

Courtesy of Cultured Cook.

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