You leave a green tomato lying around long enough, you get a red tomato. Or you get a rotting one; fruit flies would be a clue. Either way you’ve got to act fast, and the options are limited since these puppies don’t have nearly the flavor of the summer slicers. My plan was to keep things basic — just a plain jane freezer sauce. But as the sauce simmered on the stove, my head filled with thoughts of penne alla vodka, that simple creamy tomato concoction that fills the soul. In the end all the cooking was a bit of an upfront investment, but you get a lovely tomato base that’s ready to go next time around.

Recipe: Basic Tomato Sauce

3 lbs tomatoes / 1 onion, minced / 2 cloves garlic / 1 carrot, minced / 5 leaves basil, minced / 1 bay leaf

First, blanch the tomatoes by dropping in boiling water for 30-40 seconds. A crack should form in the tomato skin. Remove and cool then slip off skins.

Heat a heavy pot over medium. Swirl in vegetable oil to coat and when warmed add onion, garlic, and carrot, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring some. Add peeled tomatoes (I leave the seeds in, but you can squeeze them out), basil, and bay leaf, and simmer with lid off for an hour. Remove bay leaf, puree sauce on ‘pulse’ mode in a food processor. Makes about 6 cups. Freeze some and use the rest for:

Penne alla Vodka

2 cups tomato sauce, above / 4 tbls good vodka / ½ lb penne / ¼ cup cream / salt & pepper / 2 tbls minced parsley / ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place tomato sauce and vodka in a sauce pan and cook over moderate heat for about 30 minutes, until reduced by about half. Cook penne until al dente, then drain. Stir cream into the tomato sauce and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then toss sauce with pasta and sprinkle with parsley and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. Feeds 2. Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis.

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