The smell of fresh picked basil and ripe, red tomatoes evokes summer for me in a way unlike any other! A whiff of basil conjures up images of hot sunny spots in the garden and the smell of damp earth in the evening as I recall standing with the hose, hand-watering my precious summer vegetable patch.
The flavours and aromas seem to belong together so completely that it may come as some surprise to find that it was only relatively recently that the two plants met. Tomatoes are native to South America, where they had them all to themselves until some time in the 16th century. It is believed that either Cortez or Columbus first introduced them to the rest of the world, via the Spanish colonies in the Pacific and the Caribbean, through Asia and then into Europe. They were cultivated in the Mediterranean and began to be introduced into local diets in the late 16th century, although in some parts of Italy they were only used as decoration and not incorporated into the cuisine until the late 17th century.
The origins of basil have been traced to India, where it was considered to be sacred, and it was also native to Iran and Africa. It, too, was introduced to Europe some time in the 16th century, becoming a popular plant to grow in the warmer, Mediterranean climate. It is considered a symbol of love in some parts of Italy, so maybe that is why it was originally paired with the pomme d’amour – the name given by the French to the tomato?
In summer, tomatoes and basil are generally plentiful and at their peak and this following recipe takes advantage of this. I know that I have been banging on about using the best possible products in your cooking, but this is one occasion where this is just not at all necessary. At the height of summer tomatoes can be bought in bulk at very reasonable prices. These fruit are often not in their best condition, with spots and bruises, but that doesn’t matter at all for this super easy and very versatile little recipe. I generally ignore most of the small marks, just cutting away anything too squishy or icky and cook up a great big batch and freeze it in individual containers, giving me a taste of summer all through winter. You may peel the tomatoes if you can be bothered – I have never bothered. This can be cooked on top of the cooker in a saucepan, but I would urge you to find a big ovenproof dish and cook it in the oven to get the very best, deepest flavour. This sauce can be used in as many ways as you can think of – as a pizza base, a base sauce for pasta, as a flavour base in soups or casseroles or as a soup itself!
One other thing – I never add the basil until after the sauce is cooked as that maintains the freshness of the basil flavour.
SIMPLE TOMATO SUGO
1 kilo ripe tomatoes
2-4 cloves garlic
Large bunch of basil
Preheat oven to 170C.
Halve the tomatoes and remove the seeds and pulp. Peel and slice the onions. Crush or finely chop the garlic.
Toss all in a large baking dish with several good glugs of olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper. Will look like this.
Bake for about 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the tomatoes have collapsed, the juice is running and everything looks yummy – a bit like this!
Tear the basil into bits and add to tomatoes, then push the whole lot through a food mill, or process in manageable amounts until completely smooth.
Put into containers and freeze.