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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Mother and Julia

Ted's heirloom tomatoes

When I was growing up, my mother had a copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  She also had a complete set of Gourmet Magazine cookbooks.  I don't think she ever cracked the spine on any of them, but they were there, on the shelf in the family room.  I don't even think it ever occurred to my mother to actually make any of the recipes.  Rather, they were sporty additions to her cookbook library.
5 pounds of tomatoes and this is what you get.

My mother was good at lots of the "household arts".  Honestly, that women took cleaning to a whole new level.  Every morning she made her way through the house like a cyclone, picking up, dusting off, wiping down, and vacuuming away the debris of our family of five.  Honestly, it looked like no one actually lived in our house.

I must admit that I have inherited the "cleaning gene" from my mother.  My family also complains that it doesn't look like anyone actually lives in our house either..  I'm sorry.  I like things neat.  So sue me.

I have, after years of aggravation, finally given up on my kid's bedrooms and Ted's home office.  I just close the door and pretend that the disarray isn't there.  But the rest of the house is generally up to my neat standards and so I'm happy.

I shrink could make really fast work of me.

But I digress.  Back to Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I'm not quite as afraid of a recipe as my mother was, so I've cracked the cookbook open numerous times and tried lots of recipes.  I also jumped on the "Julie and Julia" bandwagon too many times to count and promised myself that I would cook my way through a cookbook.  It's never happened but I can dream.

So as you know, Ted has been growing tomatoes this summer.  We have pounds of beautiful heirloom tomatoes coming off the vines every week and I'm desperate to do something with them besides making tomato salads.

Enter Julia Child.  Julia would be turning 100 years old this year (August 15th to be exact).   In honor of her birthday, The New York Times  dedicated a column to Julia, complete with a couple of recipes, including this one for tomato sauce.
Ready to be cooked
I often think about what might have happened if my mother had actually cooked something from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Maybe instead of the cleaning gene, my mom would have passed along some of her favorite Julia Child recipes.

Recipe:  Coulis de Tomates À La Provençale (Tomato Sauce with Mediterranean Flavors)
(Adapted from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child) (Knopf, 1961)

Note:  Just so you know, this recipe takes a ton of tomatoes, 5 to 6 pounds to be precise, and yields just a quart of tomato sauce.  The resulting sauce is tomato-y and delicious beyond compare.


1/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup finely minced yellow onions
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
5 to 6 pounds ripe tomatoes, quartered
1/8 teaspoon sugar, plus more to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
A large herb bouquet: 8 sprigs parsley, 1 bay leaf and 4 sprigs thyme, all tied in cheesecloth
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried basil, oregano, marjoram or savory
Large pinch saffron threads
1 dozen coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 2-inch piece dried orange peel (or 1/2 teaspoon granules)
2 to 3 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)


In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, sprinkle with salt and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until tender but not browned. Sprinkle on the flour and cook slowly for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally; do not brown.

Meanwhile, fit a food processor with the coarse grating blade. Working in batches to avoid overfilling the machine, push the tomatoes through the feed tube to make a coarse purée.

Stir the tomatoes, sugar, garlic, herb bouquet, fennel, basil, saffron, coriander, orange peel and 1 teaspoon salt into the pot. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, so the tomatoes will render more of their juice. Then uncover and simmer for about an hour, until thick. The sauce is done when it tastes thoroughly cooked and is thick enough to form a mass in the spoon. Remove herb bouquet and taste. Season with salt, pepper, sugar and tomato paste, and simmer two minutes more. The sauce may be used immediately, refrigerated or frozen for up to 6 months.

YIELD About 1 quart.

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