(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In French cooking school, lesson No. 1 is the importance of basic
Some of these sauces started as pantry preparations designed to
preserve the harvest. They became an integral part of the culinary repertoire of
cooks in different regions and give their cuisine its character.
that has long been popular in Provence and was adopted by cooks throughout
France is a simple tomato sauce called coulis de tomates, or tomate concassee
cuite. It is made of peeled, chopped ripe tomatoes cooked with sauteed onions
and garlic until they form a thick sauce. Some chefs use high heat to obtain a
sauce of a fairly chunky consistency with the fresh flavor of briefly cooked
tomatoes, while others cook it longer over low heat so the tomatoes fall apart
and become a puree. A bouquet garni, or herb bundle, of thyme, parsley sprigs
and bay leaves is the classic flavoring of this sauce.
When our vegetable
garden produced an abundance of tomatoes, this concentrated tomato sauce became
a staple in our kitchen.
We made many batches, froze them and enjoyed the
fresh flavor of sauce made with garden- ripe tomatoes throughout the
Tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic form the basis of Spanish
Romesco tomato sauce, which is made with a method that is very different from
Provençal tomato sauce. Aglaia Kremezi, author of The Mediterranean Pantry,
makes the sauce by roasting the vegetables at high temperature with olive oil
and pureeing them in a food mill. She then bakes the pureed sauce in the oven at
a low temperature for two hours until it is very thick and stores it in jars in
the refrigerator for up to a month.
Chefs use sauces such as these as the
foundations for more elaborate sauces. For example, Provençal pebronata is made
from French tomato coulis. To prepare this traditional dish, cooks sauté sweet
red pepper strips in olive oil, sprinkle them with a little flour to thicken the
sauce and stir in red wine. They then simmer the sauce with tomato coulis and
use it to finish veal stews.
These kinds of vegetable sauces are useful
to have on hand for everyday cooking. Use them to top rice pilaf, fried or baked
eggplant slices, steamed vegetables or hot cooked pasta tossed with olive oil;
or serve them with chicken schnitzel, grilled fish or eggs prepared any way you
like. They dress up simple ingredients and make it easy to turn them into tasty
entrees, appetizers and side dishes.
Faye Levy is the author of Classic
FRENCH TOMATO SAUCE – COULIS DE TOMATES
Although olive oil is the choice of
cooks in southern France, some people make this sauce with vegetable oil or
butter. In addition to the traditional flavorings of thyme and bay leaves, you
can add other herbs such as fresh basil, tarragon, oregano or
If the color of the sauce is not deep enough, add a tablespoon
of tomato paste. When you taste the sauce for seasoning, add a little sugar if
necessary, depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes.
Makes about 1 1⁄2
cups sauce or 6 servings
Sprig of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
5 parsley stems
extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 onion, chopped
1 to 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
to 1.2 kg. (21⁄2 pounds) ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
freshly ground pepper to taste
If you like, tie the thyme, bay leaf and parsley
sprigs together with kitchen twine to make them easier to remove.
oil in a medium-sized heavy frying pan over low heat. Add onion and cook,
stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in
garlic and cook for 1⁄2 minute.
Add tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, salt and
pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until tomatoes are soft and
mixture is thick and smooth, about 20 minutes. Discard thyme sprig, bay leaf and
parsley stems. Taste; add salt and pepper if needed.
ROMESCO TOMATO SAUCE
This recipe is from The Mediterranean Pantry.
Author Aglaia Kremezi writes, “Baked tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic are
the base for the classic Spanish Romesco sauce in which all of the ingredients
are baked in the oven instead of being cooked on top of the stove. After I saw
the chef and owner of the elegant restaurant Flora in Barcelona prepare this
incredibly rich sauce for the first time, I immediately changed the way I make
Kremezi emphasizes that you don’t need to prepare a
special ethnic dish to make use of Romesco sauce. She adds it to soups, tosses
it with cooked pasta and even recommends using it on pizzas.
1 large onion, unpeeled and halved
Olive oil, to coat the vegetables
whole garlic head
2 green bell peppers
1 fresh hot pepper, or more to taste
6 large red tomatoes (about 1.4 kg or 3 pounds)
Preheat the oven to 230ºC
(450ºF). Rub the onion halves with olive oil, place in a pan and bake for 20
Meanwhile, cut off the top of the garlic and drizzle with a
little olive oil. Wash and dry all of the other vegetables and coat them with
olive oil. Place in the pan with the half-baked onion and bake for 45 minutes or
until the onion, garlic, peppers and tomatoes are soft. Remove peel from
Press the garlic to extract the baked cloves. Pass all of the
vegetables through a food mill fitted with the medium disk.
roasted garlic to the mill and pass it through with the rest.
pulp in a deep 30- x 23-cm (12- x 9-inch) baking pan, lower the oven temperature
to 150ºC (300ºF) and bake the sauce for about 2 hours, stirring twice, until it
gets very thick.
Let the sauce cool, then pack in jars, pressing well to
avoid air pockets. Top with a thin film of olive oil and store in the
refrigerator. It will keep for 3 to 4 weeks.
CHICKEN BREASTS WITH TOMATO
SAUCE, OREGANO AND WHITE WINE
When you have French tomato sauce on hand, you can
quickly turn sauteed chicken breasts into a savory entree.
chicken with sauteed quartered mushrooms or boiled broccoli or green beans, and
with rice or pasta.
Boneless chicken breasts are often pounded so that
they can be sauteed quickly and remain moist. Use a flat-surfaced meat pounder,
and not one with ridges or pointed edges, which may tear the meat. Many butchers
will pound the meat for you.
Makes 4 servings
4 boneless chicken breast
halves, skinned (170 to 200 gr. or 6 to 7 ounces each)
1⁄4 cup flour
freshly ground pepper
3 to 4 Tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
1⁄3 cup dry white
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried oregano
French Tomato Sauce
(see recipe above)
Pinch of sugar (optional)
Trim chicken breast halves of fat,
cartilage and tendons. Pound them one by one between two pieces of
plastic wrap or waxed paper to a thickness of 6 mm (1⁄4 inch), using a flat meat
pounder or rolling pin. Do not pound too forcefully or the meat may tear.
Carefully peel off the wrap or paper.
Spread flour on a plate. Sprinkle
chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Lightly coat 2 chicken breasts with
flour on both sides. Tap them to remove excess flour and arrange them side by
side on a plate.
Heat oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium-high
heat. Add coated chicken breasts. Saute until browned on the bottom, about 2
minutes. Using two wide spatulas, turn chicken over carefully. Saute second side
until it is browned and chicken is tender when pierced with a small sharp knife,
about 2 more minutes. Transfer chicken to an ovenproof platter, arrange pieces
side by side and keep them warm in a low oven.
Repeat flouring and
sauteing with remaining chicken. If fat in pan turns brown during sauteing,
reduce heat to medium-low.
Discard fat from frying pan. Pour wine into
pan, add oregano and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping to dissolve any
brown bits in the pan.
Add tomato sauce to pan and simmer, stirring,
until tomato sauce absorbs the wine, about 2 minutes. Taste; add salt and pepper
if needed. If sauce is too acidic, add a pinch of sugar.
To serve, spoon
a little sauce on each of 4 plates and spread it to coat bottom of plate. Set
chicken breasts on top, letting sauce show.
Serve immediately; serve
remaining sauce separately.