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Besides my birthday, tomatoes are my favorite thing about summer. They are sweet. They are tangy. They are juicy. They are the base of my favorite sandwich. One cannot replicate the flavor of an in-season tomato in the dead of winter, but you can make your winter tomato sauces taste a little brighter and a little sunnier with a common kitchen staple.
According to Food52, cookbook author Heidi Swanson uses the zest of a lemon to infuse her sauce with a summery vibe. According to Swanson, the zest “jolts the tomatoes to life without tasting more acidic or even perceptibly lemony.”
Tomatoes already have a fair amount of acid, and so do lemons (obviously), but lemon zest does not. Zest smells and tastes like a heady, fragrant memory of a lemon, without any of the sourness, and citrus is at its best in the middle of winter (which is right now).
Swanson uses the zest of an entire lemon in her 5-Minute Tomato Sauce, a recipe that contains a few other good tips, like starting your garlic in a cold pan, and using crushed tomatoes, which are basically sauce already. You should give her recipe a try, but you can utilize the brightening power of lemon zest in any sauce (or rich, tomato-based stew) you please. Stick with a ratio of the zest of one lemon for every 28 ounces of canned tomatoes, saving a little bit to sprinkle on as a cheerful garnish. If, however, you have picky eaters that balk at the visual of lemon in their sauce, just stir it all in. I won’t tell if you don’t, and they won’t notice any lemon, just vibrant, summery brightness (which I’m sure they’ll appreciate, given how cold and gross the weather has been).
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