Sunday, October 10, 2010

Project Food Blog #4: From Vine to Table - Penne with Heirloom Tomato Arrabbiata Sauce

Voting for Round 4 of Project Food Blog is now open!  Your votes and support have helped me get to this point, and I'd truly appreciate it if you could help me go one step further to Round 5!  I have a fabulous pizza idea to share with all of you for that challenge.  :)  Please cast your vote today using this link or the widget on the left sidebar.  Thank you so much!  - Kimberly

After a solid week of hearing, "Sorry, we're not hiring right now," I was beyond stoked to find out I had made it through to the fourth round of this competition (thanks so much to all of you who have helped me get this far!).  It was just the news I needed to perk up my wilted spirits.  But the news also left me beyond stumped when it came to deciding what to do for this next round because it is way outside my comfort zone.  This week's challenge is called "Picture Perfect".  Well, I like taking pictures of food, so that seems easy enough.  Then they hit me with this: create a step-by-step instructional photo tutorial.


Sure, it might seem easy to some so my panic may appear to be a bit ridiculous. But I'm one of those "writing-centric" bloggers who paints pictures with her words and uses photos to accent those words, not the other way around.  I am a natural story-teller and I love that my writing engages my readers and keeps them coming back for more.  That and the fact that I live alone with two cats whose paws don't sport those ever-so-handy opposable thumbs to help with the in-progress shots, made this challenge even more intimidating to me.  For days, I stewed, I fretted, I tossed and I turned, trying to decide what exactly to post for this particular round of the competition.

I was just about to launch into a daunting step-by-step tutorial on the intricacies of doro wat, when the giant pile of heirloom tomatoes I'd just scored from my choir mate Milt's farm caught my eye.  Of course!  I could make an incredible pasta sauce completely from scratch, using real tomatoes instead of those inferior canned ones.  Not everyone has access to some of the spices needed to make that Ethiopian delight, and I wanted to post something that anyone, regardless of cooking skill, could try at home.  Since I'd already had my heart set on something spicy and had a couple of perfectly hot little peppers growing in my own little garden, I decided to make a fiery arrabbiata sauce to go with some freshly cooked penne.  Once again my berbere spices were put away and I set about making a completely different, but equally delicious spicy dish that featured what I consider to be one of the most perfect foods on the planet: tomatoes.

I love tomatoes like a little kid loves cake and I can never, ever seem to get enough.  Legend has it that when I was a wee tot just out of my first day of pre-school, my two biggest complaints were: A) there were no swings in the playground, and B) there were no tomatoes in my salad at lunchtime.  I still consider both of  these to be capital offenses and I actually suffer through tomato withdrawals whenever they're not in season.  You know, when those waxy, bland, pink excuses start invading the produce department at local stores and you're left wondering if what you just ate was even a distant second cousin to the tomato.  And there actually used to be times when I'd would ask coworkers if I could bum and/or buy a tomato off them if I happened to be faced with tomato-less lunch fare (Oh, dear God, I can't believe I just admitted that).

So a day at the Whaley Farm was pretty much like a day at Disneyland for me.  There, I helped Milt pick, process and pack a veritable rainbow of different tomatoes, from Lemon Boys to Green Zebras to Purple Russians.  After a full day of working behind-the-scenes at a tomato farm and enjoying a lovely dinner with Milt and his family, I was sent home with my own large bundle of fine heirloom tomatoes.  I had every intention of just eating them on their own or throwing them in salads, but a thick, rich arrabbiata seemed like a much better idea.

Arrabbiata means "angry" in Italian, and the sauce was dubbed with this name because of the fiery addition of hot peppers.  There are a ton of recipes out there for making this with canned tomatoes, but that almost seems sacrilegious to me; why do that to a pasta sauce when you can make one the right way?  Sure, processing your own fresh tomatoes takes a bit more time and you get to make a glorious mess in the kitchen while doing so; but the end result is completely worth the effort.

So without further ado in the "words" department, let's check out how to make a delicious arrabbiata sauce step-by-step, from vine to table.

Penne with Heirloom Tomato Arrabbiata Sauce (serves 4; total cost per serving: $1.95)

6-8 lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes
3 small hot red chiles, finely chopped
4 t crushed red chile flakes
1 c finely chopped onion
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 t dried oregano
2/3 c dry red wine
1 T salt
1 t sugar
3 T olive oil
1 T chopped fresh basil
3 c cooked penne pasta (preferably whole wheat, but white will also do in a pinch)
Salt & pepper to taste

First, pick your produce...
Lovely ripe tomatoes from the Whaley Family Farm...

The best ones like to hang out toward the bottom of the vine...

Ridiculously cute - and hot - peppers from Poor Girl's urban garden...

The last of my sweet summer basil...

Heirloom tomato heaven!

Next, start preparing your mise en place...

Chop 3 large cloves of garlic...

... and about 1 cup of onions (preferably yellow)...

... and, of course, those fiery little peppers.

Then, blanch the tomatoes...

Start boiling water in a large pot or soup tureen...

Prepare a large bowl or other receptacle with ice water (the more ice, the better!)...

Score the bottoms of each tomato with an "x" shaped cut (this allows the boiling water to penetrate the tomato more easily, facilitating the separation of the skin for easier peeling)...

Using a slotted spoon, gently add the tomatoes into the rapidly boiling water and blanch for no more than 60 seconds...

After 60 seconds, or when the tomato skins begin to separate from the flesh, remove the tomatoes using your slotted spoon and dunk them in the bowl with ice water. 

Allow the tomatoes to cool in the ice water for about a minute or so, then move to a separate bowl for the next step.

Peel & seed tomatoes...
Tomatoes are kind little fruits: they will start doing the peeling for you...

(Peeled tomatoes awaiting seeding & chopping)

Slice the tomatoes in half, remove the seeds, and make a glorious, tomato-y mess...

Proudly survey your mise en place...

Chopped tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, dried oregano, salt, crushed chile flakes and, of course, red wine.
You're ready to start cooking!

Begin cooking the sauce...
Heat a large pot over medium heat.  Add the olive oil, garlic and onions...

...followed by the fresh chiles, crushed chile flakes, salt, sugar and oregano...

Next, add the wine...

... and, of course, the tomatoes!

Stir until well combined...

... and simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, or until you have a thick, chunky sauce.

About 10 minutes in, start to cook the penne...
The sauce is pretty awesome on its own, but it's best when paired with some penne pasta...

When pasta is cooked, drain and drizzle generously with olive oil for extra flavor and to prevent it from sticking together.

Finish the sauce...
During the last 5-7 minutes of cooking, add the fresh chopped basil and stir together; check for flavor and adjust accordingly with salt & freshly ground pepper...

Soon afterwards your arrabbiata sauce is done!  Thick, rich, spicy, tomato-y perfection!

Remove from heat and place in a separate, pretty bowl and stare at the remarkable fruits of your labor...

Serve a generous amount of sauce on a heaping plate of freshly cooked penne
and garnish with extra sprigs of fresh basil...

Take one last picture because you're completely obsessed with the natural beauty of this dish....

...and enjoy!

'Nuff said.

Whew!  Mission accomplished!  As you can see, I stayed true to my regular PGEW style and pretty much deconstructed my usual recipe method by adding pictures.  Though the lighting in my kitchen is rather horrendous and the batteries in my "good" camera died right before I set about working on this post, I still think I was able to clearly convey the process of making a homemade pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes.  Like I said before, it's one thing to make a pasta sauce "from scratch" using canned goods; it's quite another to make it from scratch.

And even if it took me a few hours to do all of this by myself, working as both chef and photographer (cooking with your non-dominant hand while trying to properly engage the shutter button with the other as cats wind between your legs trying to trip you because you've ignored them all day is definitely what I'd call a "challenge"), I must say I'm proud of the fact that I was able to do it all by myself with my own two hands.  From the picking to the processing to the photographing, everything in this post is 100% me; no special equipment or anything.  Just Poor Girl doing the best that she can with what she has on hand.

And you know what?  That's what my blog has always been about: making the most of a potentially scary situation.  I hope it inspires you to do the same in your own endeavors!  Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this recipe post, please take the time to cast your vote for PGEW starting at 6am Pacific time on October 11th.  As always, I will provide a special post with a link to the voting page, but you can also vote for me by using the widget on the left sidebar.  Thanks in advance!  - Kimberly


  1. This looks AMAZING!

    I'm on the Unprocessed kick for this month, but I but this would be great over whole wheat pasta. Hmmmm . . . . !

  2. Looks delicious and sauce tastes so much better homemade! Good luck and you have my vote.

  3. Love it. Nice job with the pictures - you captured each step well.

  4. BEAUTIFUL my dear!! I love that you went from picking the food to final product... love it!

  5. I discovered my complete and total adoration of heirloom tomatoes this summer...and now I'm not quite sure what I'm going to be able to do without them until next year. Man it's going to be a long winter. This pasta sauce looks absolutely fantastic!

  6. Beautiful job as always--and I love the progression of the photos from where the produce was picked to the final product on the plate. Kudos! You definitely deserve to move on to the next round. I will be voting for you tomorrow.

  7. your sauce looks amazing! so mouth watering and delicious. great photo tutorial - good luck!

  8. I cannot wait to try this recipe out! I love heirloom tomatoes!

  9. Simple, yet well illustrated step-by-step photos and instructions. I loved your story so sweet, about your childhood, and your love of tomatoes. Your photos belong in a cooking magazine, for sure. Such beautiful and meticulous work. For sure, I am voting for you!

  10. I enjoyed the labor of your posts as I can so identify. Despite a daughter who is a great photographer and another who is a fabulous cook; both seem determined to not vest themselves in assisting with my food blogging efforts so I struggle with two dogs waiting at the ready for every crumb and a limited ability to manage some of those erstwhile fab shots I see on other blogs.

    Pouring, spoon in photo? Not here. But no matter, nice job and I love the simplicity of your post. Simple fresh tomato sauce? Isn't that the best reward of summer?

  11. Oh wow that looks so delicious. I've always wanted to make my own sauce completely from scratch but never knew how. Thank you for the easy to understand instructions and pictures. The sauce looks absolutely delicious. :) Great job!

  12. Looks delicious! Not too bad for not ever doing photo-tutorials. ;) Good luck in round 4!

  13. Great tutorial! Looks delicious. Nothing beats a fresh tomato sauce. Nicely done. I voted for you!

    Good luck! hope to see us both in round 5!!! =)

  14. Great post! You have my vote. Hope to see you at the foodbuzz conference this year again, with both of your feet functioning totally well.

  15. Thank you SO MUCH, everyone! I was a bit hesitant posting such a simple recipe, especially since this isn't my forté to begin with, but I'm so glad everyone's digging it so far!!!

    @Barbara: I feel your pain. Hana & StuKitty have done nothing but guilt-trip me since yesterday because I haven't done much with them, so I can only imagine what it'll be like if I make it to Round 5! Good news is, I escaped unscathed, without tripping on either of them, so right now I'm standing on both feet!

    Which brings me to @Damaris: So far, so good! We still have about a month left, though, so I'm not guaranteeing I'll be crutch-less, but I WILL be there! Thanks so much for your support! :D

    And thanks again to everyone who's commented so far! I know there are more elaborate posts out there, but I love the simplicity of my sauce and hope others will love it just as much as you & I do!


  16. Love love love! As a fellow Italian I understand there is nothing quite like homemade tomato sauce. It kills me on the rare occasion I need to buy Ragu!

    You have my vote, girl!

  17. Love your passion for tomatoes! Sauce looks delish, good luck!

  18. You did an awesome job!! Especially considering you aren't used to taking photos of your food step-by-step. I love it!! Good luck :) :)


  19. I love making my own pasta sauce! Yours sounds wonderful. Good luck. You've got my vote :)

  20. Looks delicious, I can smell those tomatoes cooking! I sent a little red heart your way - Good luck.

  21. Nothing better than tomatoes in season!

  22. everyone should have a good tomato sauce in their arsenal, great choice!


  23. Your recipe sounds and looks good to pass it along to my friends and family .I will try it and let you what I think of it.
    Sincerely Yours,
    Maria Hall

  24. I can almost smell the garlic- nice job! :-)

  25. What a lovely tribute to the glorious tomato. I feel the same way as you do when tasteless tomatoes that are waaay out of season are all that's available to buy (and sometimes, I'll admit, I do buy them). When they're at their peak, though, what better thing to do with them than make a sauce like this :)

  26. Great job! I totally know what you mean about cooking with one hand and photographing with the other! I've learned how to take pictures with my left hand while cooking with my right. It's not the prettiest, but it works! Or sometimes I'll put the camera on top of a random bookshelf and use the self timer.

  27. This looks fantastic! I'm obsessed with heirloom tomatoes, the sheer variety gets me excited at the grocery store. Definitely voting for this one, good luck this week!

    Lick My Spoon

  28. lovely, lovely, lovely tomatoes. Great sauce, and simple is always good. Love that you costed per person!

  29. For someone who can't cook, the picture-by-picture instructions were VERY helpful!

  30. This fellow writer/blogger who relies on words rather than pictures is voting for you girlfriend...this looks delicious! Cheers!

  31. Beautiful job ...makes me want to head out to the kitchen and make this right now!

  32. Heh...that EVOO bottle looks awfully familiar...I think it was recently spotted hanging out in my kitchen cabinet! Trader Joe's should totally be paying you for the product placement, BTW! ;-)

    This recipe looks nothing short of awesome - more importantly, I learned something valuable from you: my scratch marinara is always teeming with skins and seeds, which, to be honest, I don't find anything particularly wrong with. However, now that I know it is possible to get rid of these bits, I think I might give that a try the next time I make a pot of sauce to store. Thank you, PGEW!

  33. I'm behind on my feeds, so I'm just now reading this post. I just wanted to say it's beautiful! I love arrabiata sauce. Nice job!



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