See the photo above? It shows plainly cooked scallops (delicious, and fresh enough to have eaten raw). But look away from them; look around them. This is about the sauce.
And the sauce, as usual, is about the season. It wasn’t that many weeks ago that I would go to the farmers market to buy peppers and see only green ones. Very nice in their way, of course. Then, a little further into the summer, those green peppers were streaked with red. At last, just 10 minutes ago, they were truly red. What an event!
My wife, Jackie, and I adore the sweet flavor and particular, almost paprika-y aroma of ripe, red peppers. We look forward to them every year. As an event, they don’t hold a candle to new peas or even asparagus, but they certainly mark a great moment in the food shopper’s year.When they’re charred over an open fire — admittedly, a flame on our kitchen gas range — skinned and glossed with olive oil, there are few cooking smells that can compete.
There are lots of excellent tomatoes this year as well. My standard tomato sauce is a simple one: plenty of olive oil in which I sometimes sweat the bits of a small onion or a big shallot, salt, one peeled garlic clove that I fish out at the end, and perhaps a sprig of thyme or a few sage leaves. Oh, and peeled tomatoes, diced and cooked down until the consistency is what I need. This can take 20 minutes, or 45. I always add some fresh olive oil at the end, too, for flavor. The process yields a chunky sauce that includes the tomato seeds.
This time, though, the tomatoes were so full of delicious juice that cooking the liquid down to a sauce consistency would have been a fool’s errand. I feared that it would taste burnt or too intense, as there was so much flavor at the start. So I cooked it just until it tasted wonderful (25 minutes or so) then cranked it through a food mill to create what Italians would call a passata: a fairly smooth, strained sauce. It was quite liquid but red and intense-tasting — and, as a bonus, without seeds because the food mill captured them. The sauce could become the basis for dressing pasta and an ingredient in other dishes.
The day of the scallops, however, it constituted half of a nice sauce. I took the flesh from a medium red bell pepper that I had previously charred and peeled, pureeing it with an immersion (stick) blender to create a similar volume of the passata-like tomato sauce. I checked for salt and pepper (not much pepper, please, or even none at all), added a good teaspoonful of finely chopped fresh rosemary, and, after the sauce had been heated for serving, the juice of half a lemon. If I’d wanted to soften the sauce, I’d have swirled in some butter. But why would I have wanted to do that?
Tomatoes and peppers always integrate well yet manage to retain their own identities. Especially here, where there are so few ingredients, both will be right on your tongue.
This sauce could have been used with so many things: plain, cheese-and-spinach ravioli, for instance, or an omelet. (We don’t often think of serving eggs with sauce, but it’s a great thing to do.) It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator and it can be frozen. Don’t worry if it starts to separate a little on the plate: Just grab your spoon and eat.
Schneider’s Cooking Off the Column blogposts appear Fridays in All We Can Eat. Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/TimetoCook.