Tostadas bring me back to a bright, sunny kitchen in Alexandria where a standing order with Washington’s Green Grocer meant the basket hanging in the window was always overflowing with fresh produce. I loved how easy those deliveries made it to eat healthily, but it was always a struggle to get through so much produce before it went bad. Tostadas were one of my favorite ways to use up the odds and ends that needed to get eaten. (They’re also a great way to use up tortillas that have started to go stale.)
Ignore the mussels in these pictures for a minute. They were good, but what I really want to talk about here is the saffron tomato sauce that they’re smothered in. Oh my goodness. With a luxurious, velvety texture that clings lightly to each strand of pasta, and a complex flavor that’s a tiny bit sweet, a little exotic, and has a faintly spicy note that’s familiar but at the same time hard to place (hint: it’s vanilla!), this sauce is the stuff dreams are made of.
The sauce goes great with mussels, and I’m sure it would be delicious with shrimp or chicken too, but you could just give me a ladle full on top of a big bowl of plain pasta and I’d be a happy camper. Honestly, I’d probably be happy even without the pasta – this sauce is so good that I’ll happily eat it by the spoon full.
I like to use San Marzano tomatoes, which are naturally lower in acidity and have a sweeter flavor than other canned tomatoes, in this sauce. Some brands can be expensive, but there are a few brands that aren’t bad at all. I like Bella Terra Organic San Marzano Tomatoes, which are about $3 per can. Since the rest of the ingredients in this sauce are cheap (I stock up on cheap saffron at Trader Joe’s whenever I’m visiting a place where there is one), I still make out better than buying a jar of “good” sauce. If you can’t find San Marzanos or want a cheaper option any can of whole peeled plum tomatoes will do.
Milk and butter add a layer of richness and help give the sauce its amazing texture. Full fat or skim milk will work, but you can also use almond milk or even coconut milk if that’s what you have around. I actually used Silk Simply Coconut in the sauce shown here and was very happy with the way it turned out (I had a coupon for a free half gallon of the milk, which is delicious!)