My grandmother was responsible for this dead-simple technique, as she was for many of my most delicious dead-simple techniques. You know all those recipes that start out with a pot of boiling water, making an X in the tomato skin, blanching, ice-watering, blah blah blah? Forget all that. Here’s what you do.
When you have a bunch of really good, really ripe summer tomatoes—mixed heirloom ones work great, even if some are green, yellow, orange—remove the stems, cut them into quarters, and throw them in a pot with a good mini-handful of salt. Put them over medium heat and stir every once in a while, cooking just until they are soft. This generally takes about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how many tomatoes we’re talking about. Take the pan off the heat and set it aside to cool for about 10 minutes.
Take a ladle and very gently start to submerge it in the pot, slowly slowly, so that the rim of the ladle *just* breaks the surface, thereby letting a little of the thin liquid at the top to run into the ladle. Remove as many ladle-fuls of this liquid as you can, in this manner. It will be mostly clear yellow, but with a little red pulp in it, like such:
Stick that in a jar and put it in your fridge. Congratulations! You have a delicate homemade tomato water, called “acqua pazza” or “crazy water” in Italian. I like to sip it like tomato juice, but you can also cook risotto or Sardinian couscous with it, poach some fish in it, make soup with it instead of broth, you get the picture.
Okay, back to what’s left in the pot: Fit your food mill with the large round-holed disc (the largest holes that will still keep seeds from going through), and feed the tomatoes through. Really run those skins and seeds through until there is almost no moisture left to them, and don’t forget to scrape the pulp off the bottom of the mill—that is some of the thickest stuff you will get. Take a sample—it should already taste like the best sauce you’ve ever made. But wait! There’s more.
When you’re ready to eat, cover the bottom of a large sauté pan with good olive oil and cook a few garlic cloves, slowly—do not brown them! That is a cardinal sin, which will add bitterness to the sauce. When the garlic is ready to go, add your tomato pulp. Simmer gently while the pasta pot comes to a boil, and let it cook down a bit to thicken it up slightly. Once your pasta is ready (we love it with plain old spaghetti), strain it and dress it with just enough sauce to keep it loose. Then spoon a generous amount of sauce over each serving, and scatter some chopped fresh basil over the top of each bowl. It is luscious and umami—almost meaty in flavor—and elevates a plain spaghetti dinner to serious manna status. To make it into a rib-sticking main course, pass some ricotta around to dollop on top. Though I can sort of make this sauce all year, since I home-can a version of this pulp, I can theoretically eat it whenever I want. But each summer, when I make a batch of sauce from those big wonky beefsteaks and heirlooms that are too watery or not acidic enough to can, I swear, there is simply nothing like a real summer sauce. This is the sauce I dream about all year.