Tomato Sauce, By Way of Italy and Vermont

January 28, 2010


Basics, Dinner, Fall, Local Eating, Lunch, Recipes, Seasons, Side Dishes, Spring, Summer, Winter

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If I were asked to name some of my favorite things, great tomato sauce would quickly come to mind. So would traveling and staying someplace just for the sake of staying: as my friends Caleb and Deidre did on their honeymoon. Caleb and Deidre also happen to be cooks—mostly of the Italian variety, though they both set their roots in Italy on their own terms: together, on a honeymoon that lasted a year.

I met the pair just before Christmas, when the weather was beginning to nip a bit. They came to Houston for an event that Recipe for Success was holding at a new restaurant called Canopy. The chef cooked recipes inspired by their book “In Late Winter We Ate Pears,” a chronicle of falling in love while following a hunger trail. I didn’t eat the food that night because I was helping to the event run smoothly, but I did sneak into the back, buy the cookbook, head home, and drink almost an entire bottle of wine while losing myself in a Mediterranean love affair.


I finished the book the next day and even managed to meet Caleb and Deidre for a drink at Anvil, a favorite bar that serves esoteric, antique cocktails, which—as it so happens—are one of Deidre’s specialties. The two-day whirlwind of book reading and author-meeting gave me a very clear sense of fate: Deidre and Caleb own one of the restaurants where Christopher and I flirted over pizza during weekends when we escaped the quiet Dartmouth campus and went to the (even quieter) town of Woodstock. Their restaurant, Osteria Pane e Salute is in the center of Woodstock—just a short walk from the church where we got married in October. Christopher and I spoke to Deidre about wine years ago while eating at the counter, though at the time I had no idea that cooking and growing food would become such serious habits of mine.

And then she reappeared, full of uncanny ties to my life. I first met she and Caleb amid sawdust and cherry pickers as restaurant workers tried desperately to get Canopy ready for the event that evening. Connections to food and gardening were unearthed, and I invited them to join me in the classroom that afternoon, where my co-teacher and I would be making pizza, pesto and tomato sauce with our students. After observing the garden and the classroom kitchen, Deidre spent some time deconstructing a recipe with a rather pouty 3rd grader while Caleb showed a group of 5th graders how to make the perfect dough: not too sticky, not too dry.


Later that night they disappeared into the bright lights of Canopy, while I snuck out through a dark back door after the last guests were seated. Don’t get me wrong: it exactly what I wanted to do. Somehow I knew that the book they’d written would make my own path clearer. I learned about their vineyard; their greenhouses; their own raised beds. I learned that they don’t grow certain things so that they can feature the produce of other local Vermont farmers. They keep Woodstock and its visitors warm and welcome year round—except when they head back to their own gastronomic homeland when winter becomes impossibly bleak.

There is a card on my desk that I bought for them at Christmastime that I keep meaning to send to commemorate our evening of retro drinks and everything that they have inspired me to remember. But I keep forgetting to send it. I’ve written more than one, in fact, since the Christmas card quickly became untimely. Instead of reaching out, I reach in: I’ve made almost a dozen recipes from their book and I dream of myself learning someday at their oven. I keep my fingers crossed that Christopher will go back to Dartmouth for business school, so that I can sneak away to Woodstock once again—going somewhere new and familiar all at the same time.


Which brings me back to tomato sauce. I always have a Ball jar full, waiting to be spread over all sorts of things in addition to pizza dough. I spoon it over baked yams, set it beside grilled fish or just dab some onto warm, buttered bread. Caleb and Deirdre have a wonderful recipe for wintertime pizza sauce, which I beef up with onions and serve as a full-blown tomato sauce perfect for pasta or as a thicker spread on pizza. It’s just right when you want something savory and “blessedly simple,” as Caleb describes. The sauce reminds me of the tastes of childhood, yet brings into relief all the delicious details of being an adult: the pleasure of watching garlic go gold; the glow of home-grown herbs on the countertop and the pride that comes from making something so good that people eat it straight from the jar, with a spoon.

Tomato Sauce

Inspired by “In Late Winter We Ate Pears”

1 15 oz can of crushed, concentrated plum tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 T tomato paste
1 T red wine vinegar
1 bunch fresh Oregano, chopped or 1 T dried
2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes
¼ c olive oil + 2 T
s & p to taste

In a medium sized sauce pan, sauté onion in 2 T olive oil until golden—about 6 minutes.

Add garlic and sauté until light brown—about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients together in a separate bowl.

When onion and garlic are ready, add tomato mixture and allow liquid to bubble.

Lower the heat and cook until sauce has reduced somewhat—or thin it out with 1 c water and use for pizza sauce.

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