Hot From The Kettle ™ Farm to Table II: Cooking with Alison Bermack

by Melody Kettle


Last week I visited Matarazzo Farm in North Caldwell. I brought home about twenty-five pounds of tomatoes, half Roma, and half Beefsteak. Not a single tomato met supermarket standards of visual perfection, yet all were perfectly suited for the sauce I created with Alison Bermack.

Alison is a Montclair mom committed to serving healthy food to her family. When Alison was growing up she spent much of her time in the kitchen with her father. There she learned family recipes, cooking skills and appreciation for communal cooking.

Alison was talking with a new friend and fellow mom when the friend disclosed she had overabundance of garden tomatoes; Alison offered her family recipe for tomato sauce. The two friends began transforming the tomatoes into sauce, and soon realized that they had prepared a healthy, fresh meal, all the while sharing stories, laughing, and giving intermittent tastes to their children.

Alison soon began cooking with men and women all over Montclair and hosting food swaps, and improvisational cooking dates where each person brings whatever they may have in the refrigerator or pantry, such as overripe bananas or stale bread. This led to the 2006, formation of the Cooking with Friends LLC , a communal cooking group and multimedia company.

Cooking with Friends thrived in Montclair, and has since grown to develop a sister network in Denver, run by Alison's best friend from high school, Shannon Henry Kleiber. Due to growing popularity all over the United States, Alison and Shannon publish monthly Cooking With Friends e-newsletters (the 33rd consecutive issue will be in September, 2010), which feature original recipes and photos, as well as advice and inspiration from the two "Friends." You can also join their Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter.

Alison and I spent a morning turning my Matarazzo tomatoes into sauce. Want to see how we did it? Watch the video:

Why not get a friend and put your ugly tomatoes to good use? Alison shared her recipe with us. Here it is:

Farm Fresh Tomato Sauce

Makes approximately 7 cups

You can either use your hands and get really messy for a chunky sauce or use a tomato press and stay a bit cleaner for a smooth sauce. Either way you'll want to remove most of the seeds and all of the skin from the tomatoes. You can double the recipe for a larger batch of this simply delicious sauce. Make a bunch now and keep in the freezer for the cooler months when farm fresh tomatoes aren't available.

1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil

10 large garlic cloves, chopped

14 large farm fresh tomatoes (approximately 6 ½ pounds), blanched, cooled and skins removed

1 ½ tablespoons white sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional for a hint of spice)

1 cup packed garden basil washed, stemmed, and chopped into strips

First you'll want to blanch the tomatoes. To do this, bring a large pot of water to a boil. With a sharp knife, cut an "x" in the non stem end of each tomato. Place 6 tomatoes in the boiling water and cook for three minutes. Remove and cool. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes.

Once cooled, prepare the tomatoes by removing all of the skins and the seeds. If you are using your hands, chop the tomato flesh roughly into chunks with a paring knife and place into a bowl. Press what's left on the cutting board (the juice, skins and seeds) through a fine mesh sieve into the bowl with the tomatoes, getting as much of the sauce from the tomato as possible. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a 5-quart pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and golden, no more than 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and juice gradually to the pot and bring it to a simmer. Stir in the sugar, salt, red pepper (if using). Add the basil and stir.

Reduce the heat to a medium low setting and cook about 2 hours uncovered, stirring occasionally. If after 2 hours the sauce looks thin increase the heat to medium, and cook it down for a bit. Turn the heat off and let the sauce cool to room temperature and divide into plastic containers or freezer bags.


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