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we do what we can

Recipe: tomato garlic pasta sauce

My old office was directly across the hall from the Los Angeles Times Press Room in the Seismology building at Caltech. Every time there was a local earthquake in California or a sizable earthquake around the globe, the press would flock to this room where Dr. Kate Hutton would calmly answer questions. During my years at Cornell, graduate students got word of seismic events and went down to the seismograph on the first floor of our building to see the three paper records tracing out first motions. The seismology group would be analyzing the digital records, but the rest of us watched the drums roll as the wave signatures slowly came into view. Sometimes a rupture was merely scientifically significant – occurring out in the middle of “nowhere”. Or it was a scare near population centers where there was thankfully no loss of life… And other times, like this past week, it was catastrophic.

I remember talking on the phone with the lead investigator on the Sumatran plate boundary research project right after the Banda Aceh earthquake and Tsunami in 2004. As he gave me a list of maps and images he needed from our group in preparation for his flight to Sumatra, he choked on his emotions and quietly said, “So many people have died.” Part of his research involved outreach and education for the local population including posters that instructed the island inhabitants to run inland after a seismic event. Even though he felt so helpless, his work saved lives. We do what we can, however we can.

If you want to make a contribution to a charitable organization that is working in Haiti, I recommend going to Charity Watch for a comprehensive list of top-rated organizations based on how effectively they use donations to meet their aid goals. We chose Doctors Without Borders. Whatever you choose to do, make it count.

There is a recipe for you because I’ve actually been cooking AND shooting despite an insanely busy schedule. Go figure. My only explanation is that we haven’t had any snow. Thankfully, it started snowing Sunday afternoon to my utter delight.

tomatoes and garlic

blanching tomatoes

I don’t tend to post a lot of pasta recipes because I don’t really eat a lot of pasta. I know it sounds strange considering I call myself a noodle-girl, preferring noodles to rice any day of the year. Maybe it’s because I eat rice noodles, cellophane noodles, ramen noodles, somen noodles, soba noodles, udon noodles, All Kinds of Asian noodles, that I never think to make pasta. On occasion though, I have made a pasta sauce that my Chinese mother taught me to make.

peeling the tomatoes

slicing in half

It’s not my mother’s recipe. She learned it from the ship’s captain of some cruise my parents took way back when. I wouldn’t have made the recipe myself based on that information alone, but after having tasted it at my parents’ house a few years ago, I was charmed by the sheer simplicity of it.

put the guts in a sieve

rough dice the tomato flesh

So it’s the dead of winter and I bought tomatoes from the store. I’m sure the sauce is even more amazing with in-season tomatoes from the farmer’s market (not from my garden, because tomatoes don’t grow up here), but any time I purchase fresh in-season tomatoes, I eat them raw – sometimes like an apple because they are so sweet and juicy. My mom leaves the seeds in, but I find biting the seeds can lend a bitter taste to the dish. However, I don’t want to lose all of that flavorful juice, so I shake the tomato guts out into a sieve and reserve the strained liquid. Once the tomatoes are prepped, it all goes rather quickly.

olive oil and minced garlic

adding tomatoes

When the diced tomatoes break down during the cooking process, I pour in the tomato liquid and let it simmer down to a sauce-like consistency (it’s really up to you how runny you want it). It takes maybe 20 minutes. A pinch of sugar, some salt and pepper, and you’re ready to roll.

season as you like

Of course, you can doctor this as much or as little as you like. For me, simple is good. I like to toss this sauce with some angel hair pasta and then sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley on top. It’s better than any sauce in a jar.

fresh and colorful

Ship’s Captain’s Tomato Garlic Pasta Sauce
[print recipe]

2 lbs. ripe tomatoes
3-4 tbsps olive oil
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
pinch sugar
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Place the tomatoes in a large bowl and pour boiling water into the bowl until the tomatoes are covered. Let stand for 5-10 minutes or until you see the skins splitting on most of the tomatoes. Drain the tomatoes and peel the skins off. Discard the skins. Place a sieve over a bowl. Slice each tomato in half along the equator and shake or scoop the seeds out into the sieve. Strain the juice from the seeds and pulp. Discard the seeds and pulp, reserve the juice. Dice the tomatoes. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and simmer until the tomato flesh begins to break down (about 20 minutes). Add the reserved juice and let simmer down to a sauce consistency. Season with a pinch of sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss the sauce with your choice of cooked pasta and top with grated Parmesan and chopped flat-leaf parsley (or whatever herbs you want).

26 nibbles at “we do what we can”

  1. jie says:

    tomato brings me good mood…love it

  2. Memoria says:

    I love your style of writing and your photography. I also love how you made your own crushed tomatoes. This pasta dish looks so refreshing.

  3. Dave -nibbleanibble says:

    Wow…those tomatoes look like toys because they are that damn fine.

  4. Eat. Travel. Eat! says:

    Those tomatoes look picture perfect! Haven’t seen such a beautiful tomato in quite a while now. I’m thinking of making fresh tomato sauce and you are making me want to dive into making it ASAP. :) Never knew that a ship captain would give out recipes too.

  5. Mrs Ergül says:

    Every single photo you have of the tomatoes from raw to cooked is just amazing! Oh, how I love vine-ripened tomatoes!

    The tomatoes seem to be a lot of work! It will take my life to prep 1 kilo of those ;)

  6. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) says:

    It’s challenging to make winter store-bought tomatoes taste great. Slow roasting is one way to concentrate the flavor. Cooking them down in a sauce like this is another. Thanks for sharing the method.

  7. Caitlin says:

    I miss in-season tomatoes – I would always just walk into the back yard, pick a tomato, brush it off, and eat it. No way it’d survive the trip back into the house to be made into sauce!

  8. Phoo-D says:

    I love your finished shot! Gorgeous colors and lighting. This sauce sounds simple and delicious. I miss summer tomatoes but in a sauce winter ones will work for me too.

  9. Kristin says:

    Thanks for the Charity Watch tip. We’ve been trying to decide between a few different organizations.

  10. Lauren says:

    Wonderful. Haiti has such an effect on everyone, great tips.

  11. Binsy says:

    You and Deb (Smitten Kitchen) must be reading each other’s minds. She posted a tomato sauce recipe as well!

  12. Ruth Ann says:

    I sent my donation to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) which was not on the Charity Watch list probably because they list American philanthropic groups. UNICEF has promised to send 100% of funds to Haiti now. (Charities usually have to take out some fees from donations to help run their offices, etc.)
    In any case, thanks for the info on Charity Watch and for the beautiful photos.

  13. Manggy says:

    Thanks for the link to the Charity Watch site. I’ve linked to it from my blog, too. It’s okay to feel helpless, since most of the time we are– but never to underestimate the value of our actions, no matter how little. It could mean a great deal to someone else.
    I guess this would be a marinara, right? I love that it’s nearly purely tomatoes, though our local tomatoes are always sour and annoying. I love a little marjoram in it– very Italian :)

  14. Rosa says:

    A fabulous sauce! That dish looks mighty scrumptious!



  15. Krista says:

    I love this! Simple and absolutely delicious :-)

  16. Melissa says:

    Thanks for the links for those of us who still need them Jen.

    And I’m right there about the pasta. I eat Asian noodles of every kind (I could subsist on them, I swear) so often that I don’t make much pasta. Maybe once a month? Less. I go long stretches.

  17. jo says:

    Jen, the pasta looks absolutely scrumptious. I love the combination of simple flavours and vibrant colors. Who can say NO to this dish!

  18. Debbie says:

    Looks like a delicious tomato sauce….I could eat pasta and seafood every day!

  19. Bridget says:

    That’s probably the best photo of pasta and tomato sauce I’ve ever seen. Perfect!

  20. Valérie says:

    I love the pictures of the tomatoes, so bright and juicy!

  21. Mark Scarbrough says:

    Gorgeous–and so simple–although hardly so. I mean “simple” as in “straightforward” and “beautiful.” Maybe a little butter at the end, just for a finish? Oh, heck, why futz with it?

  22. joey says:

    My mom hardly ever eats Italian food because she says “too much carbs”, but is always up for Chinese — when I asked her how come she’s so pasta-averse but is ok with Chinese she looked at me innocently and said, “that’s different, that’s NOODLES!” Heehee, I love noodles too (and pasta) :) This simple pasta dish sounds delicious!

    I made your all-purpose red rub and packaged them as Christmas gifts…thanks for sharing the recipe…it’s tasty!

  23. Amanda says:

    Mmm, that looks really good. I love a nice chunky sauce. I’m gonna try this recipe soon. Thanks!

  24. Aran says:

    tomato season just started in FL and i’m waiting anxiously to go to the farmer’s market this weekend to see what i can find. pasta is definitely on the making!

  25. jenyu says:

    Mrs E – it really doesn’t take THAT long :) Just do other things while letting the tomatoes sit in the hot water. They peel so easily that it’s kinda fun ;)

    Lydia – great tip!! I always forget about that (probably b/c I’m just so excited to get my hands on tomatoes that don’t taste like wax). Thanks :)

    Joey – isn’t that funny how Chinese moms think like that? ah ha ha ha!

    Aran – oh, I am JEALOUS!!

  26. Megan says:

    i made this using chopped tomatoes, and just drained them, keeping the juices (obviously) and it is absolutely delicious!

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