- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Every year I hold my breath. The last warm days of the year are a tease. Will the relatively balmy weather last long enough to kiss the green tomatoes and turn them vermilion?

Or will I be ripping tomatoes from the garden in a frantic race against a cold snap? Those are the vagaries of the season. I’m ready for the gamble.

If you’re also game and lucky enough to have tomatoes still growing or have them available from a farmers market, take advantage of your good fortune. Celebrate the last of the crop by cooking a robust, fresh tomato sauce for spaghetti. Choose the fattest beefsteak tomatoes you can find. Make sure the tomatoes are evenly firm with no soft or brown spots.

Fall tomatoes tend to have thicker skins, so I recommend peeling the fruit before making the sauce. This is an easy step. Make an X in the bottom of the tomato and dip the tomato in a large pot of boiling water for 15 seconds or until the skin around the X curls back.

The skin will slide off when you coax it with a paring knife. You also can cook the pasta in the boiling water, saving a step. Build your sauce into a strong tomato essence by combining the fresh fruit with sun-dried tomatoes and tomato paste.

Don’t overwhelm the tomatoes with too many seasonings. Garlic and fresh basil will provide all the enhancement you need. This is a quick tomato sauce. Serve it with ridged spaghetti. The groves in the pasta will assure that the sauce clings to each strand.

Autumn tomato sauce

2 large tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small red onion, diced

1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms

1 4-ounce hot Italian sausage link, casing removed

2 tablespoons diced, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

6 ounces ridged spaghetti, cooked and drained

Peel and dice the tomatoes. Set aside. Heat oil in large skillet. Add garlic, onion and mushrooms, and saute 3 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add sausage to skillet, crumble and brown. Stir in fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until sauce is thick and chunky. Stir in basil. Serve over spaghetti. Makes 2 servings.

Romaine lettuce salad with mustard vinaigrette

2 cups baby romaine lettuce

1 shallot, minced

1/4 cup shredded carrot

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoons white wine vinegar

teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

Combine lettuce, shallot and carrot in a salad bowl. In a cup, stir oil, vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour over salad and toss well. Makes 2 servings.


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