Nothing captures the flavor of summer like fresh, ripe summer tomatoes. I will often feature fresh tomatoes in a pasta dish, without needing to cook any sauce. But during a recent visit to South Dakota, I was looking to use some good looking tomatoes I saw at a farmstand along with some beef. Serving beef is the polite thing to do if you’ve got a cattle farmer coming to dinner! I didn’t have a grill available, so I came up with this Summer Tomato Meat Sauce that combines a quick-cooking tomato meat sauce with a fresh tomato and basil topping. A bit of fresh corn added to the sauce, and you’ve got a perfect summer pasta meal featuring those tomatoes that are so awesome to enjoy this time of year.
Many of the ingredients get divided in the instructions, as they get split between the cooked tomato sauce and the fresh tomato topping. This is a trick I like to use from time to time, combining the savory flavors you get from cooking meat with tomatoes, onions and garlic with the freshness of ripe tomatoes and basil.
The sauce uses a bit of ground pork along with beef, drawing upon the ingredients used in slow cooking Bolognese sauces. The first time I made this, I added a bit of heavy cream I had on hand, which added a nice finish the sauce. I skipped it the next time, and the pasta still tasted good. That second time I made the dish, I used a tablespoon of pesto instead of fresh basil, and that was tasty too.
This dish was designed to serve a crowd. In fact, I used double the quantities in the instructions the first time I made it. Serve along with some nice crusty bread, salad and some Italian red wine, and you’ve got a summer feast sure to please!
Wine Pairing: The first time I made the dish, we served it with a Barbera from California. Busy visiting with family, I didn’t get the details down, but recall it was more fruit forward than Barberas from their typical home in Northern Italy. Second time around we had the 2013 Barbera D’Asti Tenuta Cisa Asinari Dei Marchesi Di Gresy ($20, 13% alcohol). That’s a mouthful, but a good wine! Plum fruit, good structure to stand up to the meat sauce, with plenty of acidity to pair well with the tomatoes. Demonstrated why I like a good Barbera to pair with a tomato meat sauce!
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic, minced and divided
- ⅔ lb ground beef
- ⅓ lb ground pork
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- 8 to 10 basil leaves, julienned and divided
- 4 cups tomatoes, diced and divided
- half cup of corn kernel, preferably from a fresh ear of corn
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 lb ziti or other short pasta
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese plus extra for topping
- ¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
- Combine 2 cups of the diced tomatoes with one tablespoon olive oil, half of the basil and half of the garlic. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet on medium. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until it begins to soften. Add half of the minced garlic, and cook for another minute.
- Add the ground beef and pork to the skillet, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the meat has browned on the outside. Stir in the balsamic vinegar.
- Add 2 cups of the diced tomatoes to the skillet, and stir to combine. Add the oregano and half of the basil. Lower heat to medium low. Simmer and stir occasionally while the pasta cooks.
- Begin boiling water for pasta when you add the tomatoes. Cook according to package instructions.
- Drain the pasta when cooked to your liking. Toss the pasta with one tablespoon olive oil followed by the tomato meat sauce. Stir in the ¼ cup parmesan and the optional cream if using.
- Plate the pasta, then top with a couple of generous scoops of the fresh tomato basil mixture, and pass additional cheese at the table. Enjoy!