My garden tomatoes disappointed me this year. I’m told it’s because of the hot weather, or perhaps I need to condition the soil better for next year. So I absolutely treasured every tomato that came out of the garden this year, and used the most “imperfect” ones for the tomato pie (next week) and the marinara sauce here. This sauce is perfect for pasta or pizza, but I was in the mood for a quick “bar snack” type dish when my daughter was scheduled to stop by.
Mozzarella “sticks” are usually made with dried mozzarella, but I really enjoyed using the fresh, which is my preferred form anyway. You can also use mozzarella balls for this.
My basil is out of control so I only used basil and parsley, but you can use any herbs you like.
For The Marinara
4 pounds ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced (Unless you’re me, using a whole head)
1 bunch fresh herbs, such as basil, or a combo of basil, parsley, oregano, and/or thyme
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
Additional fresh chopped herbs, to taste (optional)
Cut tomatoes into chunks. Using your hands, squeeze them into bits over a large, deep bowl or pot, including juices. (Alternatively, you may pulse them a few times in a food processor.) Set aside.
In a large pot set over low heat, sauté minced garlic in olive oil until softened and fragrant. Add tomatoes and juices to pot, place fresh herb bunch on top, raise heat to medium, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When sauce has thickened and reduced, remove herb stems. Stir in sugar, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings. If desired, add crushed red pepper flakes and additional fresh chopped herbs. Use an immersion blender or food mill to slightly puree sauce. (Or you may allow sauce to cool and pulse it in batches in a food processor. Do not over-process...a bit of texture should remain.) Serve warm or allow to slightly cool and store in a container or jar in the refrigerator for up to a week.
The amount of sugar, salt, pepper, and balsamic required will depend on the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes you use. Start with the directed amounts of seasonings and add more as needed.
For The Cheese
1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese (a pre-sliced log recommended)*
2/3 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tbsp water (or beer or milk)
1 cup bread crumbs (Panko is great, but frankly, crushed pork rinds are best)
1 tsp dry oregano or basil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese + more for dusting
cooking oil as needed, about 2 cups
fresh basil for garnish
Set up a breading station - in one bowl mix flour, salt and pepper, in a second bowl beat the eggs and water (or beer or milk), in a third bowl combine the bread crumbs, dry oregano and Parmesan.
Slice the cheese into about half inch thick pieces (or use pre-sliced rounds).
Dredge each in flour, shake off excess, then dip in egg wash, let excess drip, and finally coat with bread crumbs mixture.
Place the coated mozzarella pieces on a parchment paper lined cutting board or a baking sheet and set aside. Pour cooking oil in a frying pan (about an inch deep) and heat to 350 F.
Fry the mozzarella pieces for approximately 90 seconds to two minutes per side, or until each side begins to turn golden brown.
Maintain even cooking oil temperature (4-5 pieces of cheese at a time). Add a bit more cooking oil in between batches and let it come to temperature before frying more cheese.
Serve immediately with a side of warm marinara and garnish with fresh basil and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan.
Sit down with a cold beer and a friend and enjoy.