With Summer in full swing, the garden should be producing to beat the drum. However, after the issues I had earlier in the season, I’ve played it safe on the tomatoes; I only planted one plant of a single variety ( Mountain Pride). And, since it’s a late season tomato… there isn’t anything resembling a ripe fruit on the vines yet. Thankfully, friends are seeing to it that I have more than enough extra ripe tomatoes to go around.
Here’s the thing with being gifted with a dozen tomatoes that are ready to eat NOW – like it or not, some are going to go bad. And the only way to combat all that spoilage is to either cook it down to sauce, or can them (which I don’t do), or zipper bag them up whole – and freeze them (as it happens, I’m all over that action.) Freezing and thawing fully ripe tomatoes allow you to keep that fresh picked flavor that you don’t get with a processed product. Granted, they can’t be used for anything other than sauce… or maybe a casserole – But that process breaks down the pulp beautifully, and makes the skin a breeze to remove…. I’ve been freezing like a demon these past couple of weeks.
So while I wait on my lowly tomato vine to give up the goods, I can take solace that the okra, peppers, and eggplants have been going the extra mile.
Down the street from where I used to live, there was a little Mom & Pop joint that served Italian fare… kinda. Actually, they served Italian Hoagies, Spaghetti with Bolognese, and a sauce they called Rustica… which I took to mean, “big chunks of vegetables – and very little meat.” It was, by far, the better of the two sauces.
Since I have all these peppers and eggplant, I figured, why not make an Aubergine Rustica sauce.
Plate Fodder Sauce Rustica
Even though there is a small amount of meat in the sauce, this sauce can be made vegetarian by omitting the meat entirely, or adapted to what you have on hand by substituting it with 8 to 10 Ounces of any other cooked protein… like a can of tuna, or chicken, or a cup of shrimp, or calamari or…. you get the picture. The star of the Rustica is the vegetables
3 Large Frozen Tomatoes – Thawed and Skin Removed (or 1 – 14 ounce can of Whole Tomatoes)
1 Clove Garlic
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
2 Large Sweet Red Peppers – Rough Chopped
3 Scallions – Diced
2 Cups Asian Eggplant – Rough Chopped (I say Asian primarily it’s what I like to use. They tend to be less bitter, and do not require you to remove the outer skin to use them)
1 Cup Diced Baby Portabella Mushrooms – (for that meaty feel)
1/2 Cup Black Olives – Diced
1 Tablespoon Fresh Basil – Minced
1 Tablespoon Fresh Oregano – Minced
1 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme – Picked
1/2 Cup White Wine
1/2 Cup of the Salted water you cooked the pasta in
1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock (or vegetable / mushroom stock if you’re going the meatless route)
Red Chili Flakes (oh, about 1/4 Teaspoon – or to your own taste)
Proteins – I’ve actually used what I had cooked in the fridge – 4 ounces of Steak and a cooked Italian sausage that I minced – all total, just shy of 1 cup of meat.
Tools of the Trade:
Sharp Chef’s Knife and Cutting Board
Before we get to the preparation, let’s talk about pasta. Sauces like cream sauces, marinara or bolognese, I use linguine or angel hair. I like the mouth feel of that type of noodle with smoother, homogenized kinds of sauce. And you can’t deny it’s just all kinds of fun to twirl those long strands up on your fork just so you can stuff more pasta than is generally considered proper in your mouth at one time.
But… for thicker, heartier, chunkier sauces, I like a noodle with some character so it can stand up to the sauce. My personal favorite as of late is Trottole. Trottole pasta (or Spinning Tops) are big, slightly thick, 2″ twisting curls of pasta with an inner fold that is just perfect for grabbing onto and holding insane amounts of sauce.
So, to make that sauce:
Heat the oil in the dutch over over medium high heat. Add the garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, mushrooms and chopped eggplant, and saute until the tomato paste begins to brown and darken slightly (about another 5 minutes). Add the peppers, onions, herbs, and minced meat; and cook another 3 to 5 minutes. Add the stock, tomatoes, and wine- bring to a boil. Add the olives and reduce to low, and simmer while you cook the pasta.
Cook your trottole as per the instructions. (Remember to use salty, salty water to cook your pasta). Before you drain the pasta, take 1/2 cup of the pasta water and add to the sauce. We are using the water as the only salt seasoning for the sauce, so we aren’t adding any additional to the sauce. The starch in the pasta water will also make the sauce glisten and cling to your pasta better.
Top with a little extra chopped parsley and some extra red pepper flakes before serving