lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

let’s talk about sauce, baby

Let’s talk about homemade tomato sauce. Somehow, in this world of amplified food awareness, it’s become this complicated, convoluted dish and it really doesn’t have to be.

I like to make this sauce in the fall when I have an abundance of tomatoes from my garden. Actually, I make tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes two ways. One is the uncooked tomato sauce version, which is easy, tasty and drool-worthy. Oh, and did I mention it’s a godsend on a hot summer night?

This second recipe is a cooked version, packed with garlic, onion and herbs and cooked for just about 3 hours or so, which I’ve found to be the sweet spot of melding and condensing flavors, while still letting that fresh tomato flavor shine through. This version I typically make in huge batches and freeze dinner-size portions of it, so that I can enjoy my garden tomatoes year-round.

I present to you homemade tomato sauce made with fresh garden tomatoes:lola-rugula-pasta-sauce-made-with-fresh-tomatoes-reciipe-3

Beautiful, right?

If you really want to make this a meal to remember, make your own homemade pasta to serve it with.


But back to my original point: let’s talk about sauce, baby.

homemade tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 1/4 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 5-6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 7 lbs. blanched, peeled and seeded tomatoes. with their juices. I don’t pre-chop mine, I just crush them as I add them to the saucepan.
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (you may want to add more but wait until the sauce is cooked and reduced before adding.
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano or 3 tablespoons fresh, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh, chopped

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add shallots, onions and garlic and cook until onion becomes translucent and soft about 5 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes and cook about 2 minutes more. Be careful not to burn the garlic, as it will become bitter if you do.

Add tomatoes, salt and herbs and stir well.  Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer only partially covered for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.  Ideally, the sauce should reduce by between 1/4 and 1/3. If you get to where there’s only an hour of cooking time left and don’t feel it’s reducing fast enough, remove the lid completely and make sure it remains at a healthy simmer. When cooked, remove bay leaf and discard.

Serve over fresh hot pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Simple tomato sauce, made with fresh tomatoes. Easy, right?

If you’re making this to freeze, be sure to let it cool, refrigerate overnight and then freeze.

I’ve been asked why I seed my tomatoes and I’ll tell you, I’ve made this sauce both ways; with seeded tomatoes and without. I find that removing the tomato seeds for this sauce is essential; the seeds tend to make the sauce a little bitter. Removing the seeds after blanching the tomatoes may take a little more time and effort but in the end, it’s worth it. I put my chinois to work for this job, but a fine mesh strainer works just as well. Here’s the cool chinois I was gifted from my parents:


It’s a sweet little old-fashioned kitchen tool that works like a charm.  To use this, I let my blanched and peeled tomatoes cool and then put my chinois over a bowl. Holding a tomato over the chinois, I quickly run my thumb up under the seed pods and scrape them out into the chinois. Then, I put the seeded tomato into a  bowl and repeat with the next tomato, continuing until all tomatoes are done. Using the wood pestle, I run it around the chinois to release anyleftover juice into the bowl. The juice gets added back to the tomatoes and the seeds get discarded. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to get every last seed – you just want to get rid of the bulk of them Anyway, back to the sauce…


Most of you know I love to give you variations on some of my dishes so here you go:

  • Add meat if you really want to – just brown it, drain the grease and then start from the beginning of this recipe.
  • Better yet, make my panko and feta meatballs.
  • If you have to add a little sugar, go ahead and do so; some people like their sauce a little sweet and you should make this recipe your own.
  • I don’t typically add black pepper to this when cooking it but love a bit of it freshly ground on top, right before serving.
  • I get pretty generous with my fresh basil sometimes…the taste of it just reminds me of summer. The amount in the recipe above is conservative – feel free to add more if you want to.
  • I love garlic, so I add quite a bit of it. Feel free to decrease the amount to your taste.
  • Want to make fresh pasta sauce with canned tomatoes? Go right ahead! This recipe converts to four 28 ounce cans of tomatoes.
  • What type of tomatoes to use for fresh sauce? I’ve used different varieties of tomatoes over the years and Roma style tomatoes still work best – they have the most meat and fewest seeds, along with a richer flavor than other types. The sauce in the photos you see above were not made with Romas and I assure you it was super delicious anyway.

Hopefully, my easy recipe inspires you to make some homemade fresh tomato sauce of your own.


lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

braised beef brisket with vegetables

The second the weather starts to cool off, I kick into comfort food mode. I love making braised dishes and soups in the fall and winter, don’t you? Beef brisket with root veggies in a tomato and red wine sauce is a perfect recipe to let simmer for hours, either in the oven or crockpot – heck, you can even do this on a very low heat on your cook top. Usually I’d use tomatoes from my garden for this; every year I blanch, skin and de-seed a bunch and then pop them in my freezer. Unfortunately, with a severe drought in the Midwest this year, I didn’t have nearly the tomato harvest that I usually have. (sniff, sniff).

Braised Beef Brisket with Tomatoes and Red Wine Recipe

  • 6 large cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, stems removed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 4 to 5 pound beef brisket
  • Freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt
  • 5 large carrots, cut on the diagonal in large, 3-4 inch chunks
  • 4 large celery stalks, cut on the diagonal in large 3-4 inch chunks
  • 4 large onions, cut into quarters
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • A few cups fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled or 1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes (sadly I was out of fresh tomatoes this day, which is unusual in my house)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, preferably flat leaf
  • 3 bay leaves

Chop the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and rosemary together into a rough paste. Place in a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside.
lola rugula beef brisket recipe

Preheat oven to 325.

Season both sides of the brisket liberally with salt and pepper.

In a large roasting pan or Dutch oven, heat the remaining olive oil and brown the brisket well on both sides.

Add the veggies around the brisket and then drizzle all of it with your rosemary garlic oil.

Add the red wine, tomatoes, parsley and bay leaves.

lola rugula beef brisket recipe

Cover the pan and bake for about 4 hours, or until the beef is fork tender and almost falling apart. This can also be done on the stove top, covered tightly on very low heat, or in a crockpot for 8-10 hours.

Be sure and serve this in large bowls so you can add plenty of the sauce. And feel free to customize this by adding potatoes, parsnips, turnips, or any other veggie that you love.

I may not be ready for winter but my taste buds sure are!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

how not to make homemade ravioli

Don’t ever let it be said that I don’t have an incredible sense of humor. Thankfully, my husband’s sense of humor is even greater than mine.

This is the homemade ravioli that I made for our 3 year anniversary:

homemade ravioli

This is the first time that I’ve attempted completely homemade – all from scratch – stuffed pasta.

I made the dough and even the ricotta from scratch. I’ve done both before, but never the two together.

Now first of all, I used my favorite all-purpose flour for this, which is King Arthur’s Unbleached White Whole Wheat Flour. I don’t think that was the problem, though it could have been. It’s whole wheat, so it’s a denser flour than plain white. I feel like I’m used to working with it though, so therefore I refuse to blame this catastrophic dinner on King Arthur.

Secondly, I rolled the pasta sheets way, way too thin. Can you see my beautiful filling through the pasta? Yeah, that’s not a good idea, at least when it’s going to sit for a few hours before cooking. The pasta became very, very moist, even with the obvious use of flour before refrigeration.

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, I was in a hurry and under self-induced extreme pressure. I took off work at noon and went by the grocery store for a fresh loaf of French bread and dessert. (Give me a break here on the store bought dessert – I made homemade pasta. Sheesh.

Then the game plan was: I had approximately 4 hours to make the pasta, let it rest, roll it into sheets, brush it with an egg wash, make the ricotta filling, plop spoonfuls of fresh ricotta cheese filling onto it, cut it out, crimp the edges and repeat 50 times. (maybe I exaggerate a tad)

Then I had to make the salad.

Then I had to pick, slice and bread the eggplant that I’d picked from our garden because I thought “what if the ravioli doesn’t turn out and we’re starving to death on our anniversary?”

Then I had to do a bunch of dishes.

Then I had to do my hair and makeup.

Then I had to put on a very, very little black number with heels.

Then I had to look relaxed when my husband walked in the front door.

Thank God for red wine.

And a husband who loves me to no end.

By the time I got to the actual pasta cooking, the dough of the ravioli had mostly stuck to the wax paper it was sitting on. Pulling each one up simply tore the very, very thin – and now damp – dough, and it was not a pretty site. I think we were able to salvage about 15 ravioli, which to my credit, were delicious. The filling was delicious and the pasta was so tender, it was amazing.

The eggplant and salad weren’t bad either.


We still sat in our newly-elegant dining room, with the new chandelier and candles burning, and enjoyed our dinner and each other. We laughed and we remembered why we love each other, which I’m pretty sure is the point of celebrating your anniversary.

And for the record, I don’t think the very, very little black number I was wearing hurt either.