Food & Drink

Fresh produce provides basis for versatile pasta sauces

Here is Toyoda's pesto sauce with ravioli and topped with red and yellow tomatoes and shaved zucchini.
Here is Toyoda's pesto sauce with ravioli and topped with red and yellow tomatoes and shaved zucchini.

On your next trip to the farmers market, there are four items you must bring home: tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil.

When combined, these ingredients make a terrific pasta sauce, and they provide the base for many other sauces. This basic tomato sauce can be smooth or chunky, it can easily be doubled or tripled, and it freezes beautifully for as long as six months.

You can jazz up the sauce with other items from the market: zucchini, herbs, eggplant and mushrooms. Or you can drop the tomatoes and make a pesto that will brighten any pasta dish.

Kevin Toyoda, executive chef at Bella Notte, said he tends to "cross-utilize" when shopping at farmers markets.

"Homemade pasta with fresh herb pesto and shaved zucchini pickled in salt will be lunch, and then the leftovers will be chilled for dinner with sliced tomatoes, cheese and crusty bread. The leftover bread will be soaked in chicken broth the next day, wrung out and tossed with a simple red wine vinaigrette, more herbs, boiled eggs and heirloom tomatoes as a panzanella."

"I typically look for tomatoes, herbs, zucchini blossoms, fruit; anything that is highly perishable and must be picked when ripe. This way you can really appreciate the quality and freshness of eating local and seasonal," Toyoda said.

When choosing a pasta to serve with fresh pesto or tomato sauce, choose long strands. If adding more vegetables to the sauce, opt for short tubular or molded pasta, which does an excellent job of trapping chunkier sauces. Sauces with very large chunks are best with shells, rigatoni or other large tubes, according to Cook's Illustrated. Sauces with small to medium chunks make more sense with fusilli or penne.


Here's Toyoda's recipe for pesto.

Basil walnut pesto

5 ounces basil leaves, no stems

2 lemons, zested

2 ounces walnuts, toasted and peeled

2 cloves garlic, fresh, peeled

10 ounces extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon sea salt

Bring a pot of sea salty water to a roiling boil and blanch basil leaves for 30 seconds, ensuring that water does not lose its boil. Strain and immediately shock basil in ice bath, stirring until completely chilled, about 1 minute. Remove basil from ice bath and place it in a kitchen towel, wringing out all excess water.

Combine basil with remaining ingredients in blender. Purée until smooth and homogenous, about 45 seconds, adjusting consistency with the addition or subtraction of olive oil. Store refrigerated for as long as 3 days.

Makes 6 servings.

Here's a basic tomato sauce recipe from Gourmet magazine.

Fresh tomato sauce

2 pounds very ripe tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

3 tablespoons olive oil

About 1 teaspoon salt

10 basil leaves

Core and halve tomatoes. Remove seeds (either scoop them out with a spoon or hold a half in your hand and squeeze out the seeds) and cut tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice. Set aside.

Thinly slice garlic. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over low heat, cook garlic in olive oil until it is soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1 teaspoon salt, and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until tomatoes give off their liquid and start to bubble. Reduce heat to medium-low or low, so the sauce gently simmers. Cook, uncovered and undisturbed, until oil separates from the sauce and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, chop basil. When sauce is done, stir in basil and add salt to taste.


■ Use unsalted butter in place of the olive oil and a chopped medium onion in place of the garlic.

■ Try 1/2 to 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano, marjoram, rosemary, or thyme instead of the basil.

■ Toss in 2 or 3 dried whole chile de arbol peppers with the garlic for a slightly spicy version. Remove peppers before serving.