I try to seek out quality, local produce for a number of reasons, including supporting local farmers, reducing food miles, and knowing what you're putting in your body is natural, but one of the most important and convincing reasons to do so is because it tastes so good.
Mass produced fruits and vegetables grown to fit supermarkets' required size and shape (this tends to be stricter in the States than here) often taste of nothing - bland, watery, and disturbingly uniform in shape and color.
Tomatoes are the best example of this. They are often tampered with to create a false orange color, making them appear market ready. In reality, they're packed away well before ripeness to increase output. In Barry Estabrook's insightful book on the Florida tomato industry, Tomatoland, he reveals that big producers basically grow tomatoes to yield a weighty and durable product so they are supermarket acceptable - not for taste.
I find a lot of people aren't crazy about tomatoes, and I think that's often because they haven't tasted what a true tomato is supposed to taste like. If you're consuming hard, pale tomatoes from the supermarket, you may as well hate them. But don't write them off. Pick up some heirloom varieties of different shapes, colors, and sizes at your local farmers market when they're in season. Slice them and sprinkle them with a bit of salt – that’s a real tomato. Taste it and you’ll suddenly understand why these things are the staple of so many cuisines, why they were ever tossed into salads, and layered in sandwiches.
So, it's no surprise that I'm pretty excited to have some tomatoes growing out at the farm. We've waited and waited and waited, and now, at the end of summer they are ready. We hastily pick them and plan how their wonderful abundance will be put to use. Some are appreciated simply, with a generous sprinkle of salt, a slice of avocado and a crusty piece of toast. When we harvest a large batch, it's usually soup or pasta sauce, which I am always thankful to have on hand once the season passes.
This is a simple Bolognese sauce made from a bunch of freshly picked beauties at the farm. If you don't have good fresh tomatoes, it's best to use quality canned ones (Muir Glen is a decent brand). I adapted this recipe from my mother, who adapted it from Joy of Cooking, and it is one of my absolute favorites. It’s fantastic if not better the next day, as the flavors continue to meld, so do yourself a favor and make a large batch.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound quality ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons oregano
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 cups beef broth
1 cup water
In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat oil. Add beef; sautée until browned all over. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. To pot, add onion, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper; sautée until well combined and onions begin to soften, 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and tomato paste; stir to combine. Return beef to pot. Add broth and water; bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours.
Serve sauce immediately over spaghetti. Alternatively, cool and refrigerate up to 5 days or freeze up to 2 months.