Rustic Fresh Tomato Sauce

Rustic Fresh Tomato Sauce

Tomato season is arriving in the northern hemisphere and come September you will have more tomatoes than you know what to  do with. Why not put them up in your pantry for the winter months and have summery tomato sauces available throughout the year?

Whole tomatoes and tomato sauces do require the water bath method for canning, but the process is quite simple (detailed canning instructions available online) and the rewards are worth the effort as you will be enjoying this year’s summer tomatoes until next year’s season arrives.

Velox tomato press

Velox tomato press

A kitchen tangent is in order here to simplify processing vine ripened fresh tomatoes. I discovered the amazing Super Passatutto Velox Universal/ Italian tomato press over 30 years ago and I am still using it to this day. It’s an ingeniously designed manual contraption that separates the skin and seeds from the tomato pulp. Simply cut up whole fresh tomatoes and drop them into the feeding bowl on the top of the mill and crank away. The pulp is extruded separately from the seeds and skin. Pass the seeds and skin through the press several times to extract every last bit of the pulp and… voila! Your tomatoes are processed and ready to add to your ingredients for a cooked fresh tomato sauce. The Velox tomato press is still available on line from various vendors and well worth the investment if you intend to make summer batches of fresh tomato sauces for canning or making sauces for a large parties. A food mill will essentially do the same thing with a little more effort, but there is something about using the Velox mill that defies explanation. It just produces a better tomato pulp!

Here is a simple recipe for a rustic cooked fresh tomato sauce with an added hint of natural sweetness, smokiness, and some chili heat if you are so inclined.

Prepare ahead:

  • 10 whole vine ripened tomatoes + 2 cups vine ripened ripe cherry tomatoes, coarsely chopped and pressed/milled to extract the pulp
  • 2 yellow bell peppers + 1 fresh red chili (if using),  flame roasted and peeled, seeds removed, and pressed/milled along with the tomatoes 

Rustic Cooked Fresh Tomato Sauce:

Makes 5 cups/serves 4

  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 leeks, peeled down to the soft interior and minced
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • teaspoon dried lemon thyme, crushed
  • tomato pulp from 10 large vine ripened tomatoes and 2 cups vine ripened cherry tomatoes
  • 2 yellow bell peppers (flame roasted and peeled) pressed/milled with the tomatoes
  • 1 fresh red chile (flame roasted, peeled, and seeded) pressed/milled (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt + more to taste when sauce is finished
  • fresh ground pepper to taste (if not using chili)

Heat the olive oil in a non-reactive pot over medium low heat. Add the minced leeks and cook for 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and lemon thyme and cook an additional 4 minutes. Add the tomato, yellow pepper, and chile pulp along with their juices and turn the heat down and bring the sauce to a simmer. No need to add additional water! Cook for about 45 minutes until the sauce is reduced by half and quite thick. As this is a rustic sauce there is no need for straining. The flavors and texture give the sauce a hearty rustic appeal.

Serve tossed with freshly cooked pasta glazed with extra virgin olive oil is my preference. The fresh tomato flavor melds deliciously with pasta on its own, but a mild grated cheese or fresh ricotta tossed into the pasta compliments the sauce nicely as well.




A hot, sweet, and smoky roasted red pepper and walnut puree infused with pomegranate and a hint of cumin. Brick red, it is a staple made all over the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, served as a spread with local breads as well as with grilled meats and fish.

I fell in love with this earthy delight, thanks to Paula Wolfert’s recipe years ago, and have made it many, many, times since; adjusting proportions, finding substitutions for sometimes hard to find ingredients, and  marveling at the combination of flavors that this simple “dip” delivers in every variation!


Makes: about 3 cups  Prepare a day before serving.

  • 3 large red bell peppers (1 ½ pounds)
  • 3 small hot red chilies
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 1/3 cup toasted crusty bread crumbs
  • 1 small garlic clove, grated
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup (available in Greek or Middle Eastern markets)
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling when serving


Flame roast the bell peppers and chilies until they are completely charred all over. Place in a bowl and seal with plastic film to sweat them, which will release the skin from the flesh. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel the charred skin away bit by bit. It’s a bit messy, but DO NOT be tempted to rinse as you go. You will be rinsing away flavor! Don’t worry about charred spots that will not release. They will add a smoky flavor to the dish. Ply the peppers and chilies open and remove all the seeds and pithy membranes. Again, no rinsing, other than your hands covered with seeds from time to time. Chop the peppers and chilies and set aside in a bowl.

Pomegranate syrup is sometimes hard to find, in which case you will have to make your own by reducing an entire container of pomegranate juice down to beautiful deep red amber glossy syrup; about 1/4 cup. You might also try using the Pomegranate syrup as a base for a simple vinaigrette; adding red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and a good quality olive oil!

Toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet, tossing frequently over a low flame. This develops a rich rounded flavor to the cumin and well worth the additional step. Grind and set aside.

The recipe:

Place the walnuts, bread crumbs, grated garlic, lemon juice, and pomegranate syrup in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is well ground and holds together around the sides of the work bowl.

Scrape down the sides of the work bowl and add the chopped peppers and chilies along with the pepper’s juices left in the bowl, toasted cumin, smoked paprika, and salt. Begin by pulsing until the ingredients are broken down and then process into a smooth rich red puree. With the processor still running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube in a slow steady stream. This will bind the puree together.

Store the Muhammara in a glass jar and refrigerate for a day before serving to develop the flavors.

Serving suggestions:

As is common in the regions of its origins, Muhammara is served, drizzled with olive oil and broken walnuts scattered on top, along with toasted pita wedges dusted with za-atar. Feel free to substitute pizza rounds, flour tortillas, or any other bread wedges.

Muhammara is also wonderful atop grilled meats, kabobs, and grilled fish; even slathered onto a juicy burger!


Za’atar ingredients


  • 1/4 cup fresh wild thyme leaves (lemon thyme, hyssop, or oregano are reasonable substitutes)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sumac powder (sour mango powder a reasonable substitute, available at South Asian purveyors)
  • 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground red chili powder (or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne), optional

Preheat the oven to 300F/150C

Strip the fresh wild thyme leaves off the stem, discarding the stems. Place the leaves on a baking sheet in a single layer and dry roast just until they crumble easily between the fingers and are still green in color; about 10 to 12 minutes, being careful not to over dry roast the leaves, which will turn the leaves brown and bitter.

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium low heat, tossing the seeds so they toast evenly. Set aside to add to the mix later.

Place the toasted wild thyme, sumac powder, and salt in a mortar and grind together into a fine powder. Add the toasted sesame seeds and coarsely grind into the mix, leaving some seeds whole. Taste and add more salt if needed and the chile powder if using.


Serve with toasted, or grilled, breads generously brushed with olive oil, or use a condiment with just about anything else you can imagine. The flavor is addictive and you will find that za’atar will find a permanent place as a must have seasoning on hand at all times in your kitchen!


Bugis Chicken

Bugis Chicken

Buginese Chicken; Sulawesi, Indonesia            Andrew Smith UK

Don’t let the exoticism of the recipe’s title scare you off. This has turned out to be one of the most satisfying, versatile, and easy to cook recipes I’ve found in a very long time…and don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients for those you can’t find in your local market. I have listed some alternative substitutes in the recipe.      Experiment!

  • 1 whole village (organic)chicken, skin on 
  • 4 cups chicken stock (or water)
  • additional water to cover the chicken for cooking 
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 12 shallots, (or 3 large onions), peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried shrimp paste ( fish sauce if not available)

Shrimp paste: a subtle contributing base flavor for many recipes. Well worth seeking out!

  • 2     tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2    teaspoons peppercorns, bashed a bit
  • 3    keffir lime leaves; found in most Asian shops 
  • 1    3 inch cinnamon stick, whole
  • 6    whole clove
  • 1    teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ¼    teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or powdered)
  • 1     teaspoon salt
  • 1     teaspoon palm sugar (or brown or white sugar)
  • 1     tablespoon white vinegar (white wine vinegar is fine)
  • ½    cup  coconut milk (available canned or in carton)

Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the whole chicken and add all the ingredients except the chicken and coconut milk. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the chicken and coconut milk and enough water to cover the chicken. Bring back to a boil, stirring now and again, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered, turning the chicken over once about half way through the cooking time (about 30 minutes). The total cooking time is approximately 1 hour, depending on the size of the chicken.

Lift the chicken from the pot, running the handle of a large wooden spoon through the cavity and set aside covered with foil. Turn up the heat and continue cooking the stock until it is reduced by half.

Another option, is to place the chicken, breast side up, in a roasting pan with 1 cup of the stock, and brown in the center of the oven at 400F/205c while the stock is reducing.   Keep an eye on it, as it browns quickly!

Serve the chicken with plenty of reduced stock spooned over it along with braised vegetable and jasmine ( plain or yellow) rice cooked with kefir lime leaves (if available) .  Boiled potatoes are another option.

Also makes great sandwiches!  Use a crisp sliced toasted baguette dipped into warmed stock, topped with sliced chicken slathered with more warmed stock, topped with shredded lettuce or pickled carrot and daikon radish!

Pickled Carrot & Daikon Radish

  •  1   carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks ( Japanese mandolin is handy for matchsticks.)
  • 1   pound daikon radish, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1  red or green chili, sliced thinly on the diagonal (optional)
  • 1   teaspoon salt
  • 2   teaspoons sugar

Place the matchsticks in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and sugar and knead  for a few minutes with your hands to release the water from the vegetables. Rinse in colander and squeeze out any excess water. Place on kitchen towel to dry.


  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4  cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup warm water

Combine the ingredients and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the vegetables and mix well. Store in a glass container and refrigerate for up to one month.

For serving on a sandwich, squeeze out excess brine and spread over sandwich contents.


Pickled Daikon & Sandwich

Pickled Daikon & Sandwich


Yellow Rice (Indonesia)

  • 1      cup long grain or jasmine rice
  • 1     cup Turmeric water or 1 teaspoon turmeric powder

              Turmeric water:  

  • 2 inch turmeric root, peeled and grated (wear gloves! It really stains.
  • 1 cup boiled water

             Pour the water over the grated turmeric and set aside to cool. Strain before adding to rice.

  • 1     garlic clove, crushed
  • 1    stalk lemon grass; bashed with knife blade or stone mortar
  • 1    3 inch slice galangal (available in Asian Markets) or ginger root
  • 3    kaffir lime leaves (available in Asian markets)
  • 1/2   teaspoon salt

Stock or water to a level of 1/2  inch above the surface of the rice.

Rinse the rice until the water runs clear and place in rice steamer bowl. Add the turmeric water or powder, garlic, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and salt. Add water to a level of 1/2 inch above the surface of the rice.Stir to combine and steam until cooked.  Allow to sit for 15 minutes and then fluff with rice paddle or fork, removing the garlic, lemon grass, galangal, and lime leaves before serving.


Making Ricotta

Making Ricotta


Homemade Ricotta has become a staple that is now always on hand in my fridge and easy to replenish without having to scour the shops only to find that it’s not to be found! Making ricotta is  easy enough once you have got a feel for the process, and with so many applications like crostini, pastas, salads, pizzas, and desserts, you will find it better than most commercially produced ricotta.

Making the next best ricotta is all about fine tuning your cheese making skills which will  enhance the subtle flavor and  light rich texture that is ricotta’s signature allure.

I have tried many recipes with varying results  until I came across Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s homemade ricotta recipe in her wonderful cookbook The Splendid Table.  As exacting as the recipe appears to be, it is quite easy to follow and well worth the attention to temperature and timing,  which I have to say turns out the best ricotta I’ve attempted to make in my kitchen.  

That said, I have also included a simpler ricotta recipe, that I’ve used often over the years, which produces a perfectly fine homemade ricotta without all the fuss. Using the cream in either recipe is optional. Simply replace the cream with additional milk.

I encourage you to set aside a little precious uninterrupted time in the kitchen and give these recipes a try. I promise you will be delighted with the results!

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