Tomatoes first entered the Old World in Spain. While we associate tomato sauce with Italy, it was more likely first a product of Spain. The Englishman John Gerard in his work entitled Herbal 1597 pictures the tomato with segmented fruit and says that “…in Spain and those hot regions they used to eat the apples prepared and boil’d with pepper, salt and oil: but the yield very little nourishment to the body… Likewise they do eat the apples (meaning tomatoes) with oil, vinegar and pepper mix’d together for sauce for their meat even as we in these cold countries do mustard.”
Antonio Latini’s book Lo Scalco alla Moderna, published in Naples in 1692, contains the first two printed recipes for tomatoes. One is called Cassuola of Quail, Veal, Chicken and Tomatoes. The other is a sauce, called Tomato Sauce Spanish Style, which differs little from what many of us make today. Interestingly, it has fresh chili peppers, which, like tomatoes, are New World natives taken to Europe by the Spanish conquerors of South America.
Below, as translated by Rudolf Grewe in his article "The Arrival of the Tomato in Spain and Italy: Early Recipes” as it appeared in the 1987 edition of Journal of Gastronomy, that early tomato sauce recipe:
“Take half a dozen tomatoes that are ripe, and put them to roast in the embers, and when they are scorched, remove the skin diligently, and mince them finely with a knife. Add thyme and onions, minced finely, to discretion add hot chili peppers also minced finely. After mixing everything together, adjust it was a little salt, oil, and vinegar. It is a very tasty sauce, both for boiled dishes or anything else.”
Below is a modern and tested version with some suggested quantities:
- 1 Pound plum tomatoes (aprox. 6 large)
- 1/3 Cup Onion, Diced
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 Large Jalapeno (or other hot chili for a real fire sauce!!)
- 1-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 450°. Cut a cross over the stem end of the tomatoes and place them on a metal pie pan. Roast them in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the skins have split and the tomatoes are soft.
- Remove the tomatoes and allow them to cool. Then peel off skins and discard the skins and seeds. (To the compost pile I hope!)
- Cut the chili pepper into strips, discarding the seeds. Chop the flesh and put it in a food processor with the tomatoes, onion, and thyme. Process until well blended. Alternately, one could pass all of the ingredients through a food mill until you have a sauce.
- Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper, then stir in a tablespoon of olive oil and the vinegar. Taste and add more olive oil, salt or pepper as necessary. Serve immediately with meats, or simmer for 5 minutes and serve with pasta. Also simmer for 5 minutes if you want to keep the sauce for use on the following day or even later.
- This recipe makes approximately ½ cups of sauce recipe and can easily be doubled
Give this a try, it is a super healthy alternative to those store bought sauces most of us turn to at meal time. Feel freed to tinker with it to make it your own - I added basil and garlic! And remember if you use tomatoes right off the vine from your own phytonutrient garden – well, it just doesn’t get any tastier or healthier than that!