This morning, sometime after Sesame Street, I’ll ask The Wolf if she wants to go to the garden. She will stand up, leave whatever we’re currently busy with, grab her favorite tomato bowl and head for the door. We step out, time expands, the early morning humidity sets in as we pick fruit, water herbs, kill leaf footed bugs and look at other critters that aren’t out for our tomato stash. It’s a moment that is at once my favorite part of the day and also a slightly sad realization that it’s only 8am and it can’t possibly go up from here. It’s enough to make any day of the week feel like Sunday morning.
Better cooks than me speak of the best food tasting of the air and soil of your home. Putting this practice to the test for the past several months, I’ve been making food that tastes literally of the soil of my yard, my own sweaty, grunting efforts and my 1 year old’s slightly grubby fingers. Because that’s where it’s from.
I’m not the first person to ever have a garden. And I’m certainly not even the best gardener on my street. But it’s mine. And I grew it. And my kid and I tend it, water it and squish the various bastard insects trying to devour it every morning. After a few years of moving around and not being able to enjoy planting and eating the stuff of my own cultivation, it’s a nice feeling to return to.
My tomatoes are exploding. So is my basil. Cucumbers are solid and several are already pickling in brine. Some cantaloupes and peppers are working up for later in the summer. The rest… eh, there have been some failures. But really, tomatoes and basil are all you need to make a fine meal.
Paul Bertolli has one of the best fresh tomato sauce recipes I’ve ever made in “Cooking by Hand.” He includes several tomato branches, which he grinds in with everything else, and the resulting essence is… well, I’m not sure how to describe it other than “of the garden.” It really tastes of standing in my backyard, sniffing the air as my little girl picks our dinner off a plant. Which it turns out is a pretty damn good flavor.
We pick the tomatoes and herbs together, we cook it together and then we eat together. A lot of work for a 1 year old. But she seems to love it, especially holding the spatula and smelling the herbs. Which for my part imbues a paternal certainty of my own kids brilliance and superiority, as if no one else in the world could possibly be doing the same thing at this moment.
Tonight’s meal was a little garden tomato sauce over each of our favorite pastas, newly brined garden pickles, some slices from our first ripe cantaloupe with a little home cured coppa. The onion, garlic and macaroni were the only interlopers. Hopefully next year the entire thing will come from the back yard. In the meantime, I just need to start raising some pigs, milling my own flour, pressing my own olive oil, teaching my kid to shoot at trespassers on my lawn and then we can start building an outhouse together… I wonder how she is with a hammer and gun.
Garden Tomato Sauce
Sweat some garlic and onion in olive oil and sea salt. Halve your tomatoes and throw them in the pot along with several basil branches and several tomato leaves, salt again, add black and red pepper. Cook till the tomatoes have given up most of their liquid and are very soft. Pass the whole thing through a food mill to grind and remove the skins. Return it to the heat and reduce to a good consistency. Finish it with extra basil and more salt and pepper if necessary. Mix with pasta and cheese. The garden tomatoes are enough to make a real difference in tasting summer through and through on this stuff.
*Fresh cayenne peppers can add a nice fruitiness and mild heat if you happen to be growing those.