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  • Writer's pictureCulinary Cam

A Tomato Canvas #FoodieReads

You would think I would have learned my lesson, but, apparently not yet! What I mean is that I have never like any book club picks from celebrities. Never. Not once. Maybe part of it is that these celebs are reading books to translate them to the big screen. Looking at you, Reese Witherspoon. This was a pick by Mindy Kaling. And I had high hopes.

This was inspired by reading Friends in Napa by Sheila Yasmin Marikar.

On the Page

Friends in Napa surrounds a group of friends who attended Cornell University together. And they are all convening in California's Napa Valley to celebrate the opening of a winery by one of their classmates and his wife. Raj and Rachel Ranjani are bankrolling the entire weekend with everything from three nights in the couple’s mansion in the vineyard, an opulent dinner at Napa’s hottest new restaurant, and the grand opening of the Ranjanis’ ultra-high-end winery. What could possibly go wrong, you ask? Well, the answer is quite a lot.

And, sadly, I didn't care about any of it. None of the characters resonated with me. They were entitled, spoiled, and, if I am being honest, people who make bad decisions and do bad things. Yeah. They are not who I would choose to spend time with. And I am just going to leave it at this: murder is never justified.

Even the food is pretentious and annoying: "While shaving truffle onto masala-marinated Wagyu and dusting garlic prawns with crystals of dehydrated tom yum, they would riff on current events, rib each other, and—the impetus for one Netflix special, several articles, and thousands of online reviews—make fun of every person at the table. Nabbing a seat at the Bangkok restaurant (prepaid, $700, plus a 30 percent service charge) required completing a questionnaire that asked, among other things, about the most embarrassing thing that you had ever done."

"Raj set down his fourteenth glass of wine—a Harlan cabernet to pair with course fourteen, “brain,” a croquette of lamb and cassava shaped like its namesake and served atop pages printed with algebra formulas (also made of cassava)."

But, as with almost any book or movie, I can find something that sends me into the kitchen.

In the Jars

This is what inspired me...

[It was meant to] make you yearn for an afternoon in the Puglian sun, for a tomato sauce that lights up the inside of your mouth and leaves it begging for more.

Every summer I process a ton of tomatoes so we'll have fresh sauce even when tomatoes are out of season. And every summer, my boys would complain. I usually make them do enough that they appreciate the fresh sauce, but, then, I do the lion's share of it as a Roasted Tomato Sauce that doesn't require peeling!

Making a basic tomato sauce in the wee hours of the morning in an enormous cauldron is one of my unforgettable food memories. There was no sterilization going on. We were in the middle of a field, cooking the tomatoes down over a fire with an oar and pouring them into old beer bottles. It was fantastic!

I had rented a room on a farm on the island of Lipari (off the coast of Sicily). Each morning the family left me a basket of eggs and fresh vegetables. And one day - at 3am - they invited me to watch them make and jar their tomato sauce for the year. When it was all finished, just as the sun was coming up, we simmered fresh eggs in their tomato sauce with slices of huge garlic cloves, sprinkled it all with sea salt and topped it with some fresh basil. We ate it all with bread just out of the wood-burning oven in the field. As I said - unforgettable.

Note: this is not a finished tomato sauce. It's a tomato base that I will open up throughout the year and season as I cook. Think of it as a roasted tomato canvas. There is nothing in here except some vinegar to keep the acidity high and safe for canning. There are no aromatics, no herbs, and no salt included.


  • 15 pounds organic, ripe tomatoes

  • 1/4 cup organic apple cider vinegar

  • also needed: ice, jars, lids, and bands


Bring water to a boil and submerge your tomatoes - whole - into the water. Let sit for two minutes. You can do this in batches if your pot isn't big enough to hold 15 pounds of tomatoes.

Quickly plunge the tomatoes into ice water. They can sit in there for as long as you like.

Score the skin and easily slip the skin off! Piece of cake.

Pour into a large pot or Dutch oven. Simmer the sauce until the tomatoes completely lose their shape and the sauce is reduced by a half - or more if you like it thicker. Stir in vinegar.

Spoon sauce into sterile jars and process in a water bath. Let cool until the jars seal.

I am adding this to the April #FoodieReads link-up.

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1 Comment

Wendy Klik
Wendy Klik
Apr 19

I just used my last jar of Marinara and tomato season is a long way off in Michigan. I will have to make more this year. I didn't like the book either.

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