So its the end of the growing season, and my kitchen windowsill overflows with tomatoes. I bought a bunch of different varieties at the local nursery and up until now, they’ve been providing me with enough ripening fruit to make salads and light sauces pretty regularly over the past few weeks.
That is until the San Marzanos and the Plum tomatoes started conspiring with the orange-cherry tomatoes to overwhelm me. And since its just me, there’s only so many tomatoes I can eat, and the bastards at work are not getting a single one, and my friends have their own tomatoes to contend with and/or more agreeable co-workers, and it was rainy today, I undertook making one of the basic staples to my pantry: Tomato Sauce.
I had one of those big ridiculous cans of San Marzanos taking space away in my cupboard and reducing my ability to give in to my cooking tools fetish, so into the pot it went along with:
2.5lbs of mixed fresh tomatoes, sliced into about an inch pieces. If using cherry tomatoes, just cut them in half
3 medium carrots- diced
2 medium red onions- diced
3 green onions (or scallions)- diced
3 sticks of celery- diced
a head of garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
fresh herbs from the garden that included basil, thyme, fennel, french lavender, the greens from a fennel plant, and marjoram – a small bouquet
half a bottle of a good malbec – I like Norton Reserva
two tablespoons of vegetable stock reduction
3 small cans of tomato paste, what was left in the tomato paste tube in the fridge (half)
the pesto tube (half),
half a glass jar of Italian sardines (the good little ones packed in oil) – you could leave them out, but then you’d need to double up on the salt and the olive oil, and the sauce will be missing the umami that comes from the add, so hold your nose and leave them in. Nobody will know and the sauce will taste better.
So there was olive oil in a deep pot (about 2 tablespoons), all of the aromatics and two big pinches of salt to make everything sweat and give up its juice. Then the tomatoes, all cut in half. I leave the skins on, because the whole pot will be taken care of with the immersion blender, and I personally think along with about a quarter cup of good olive oil later in the cooking process, it adds some nice body to the sauce. If you like your sauce rustic-style (chunky), you are going to have to blanche and peel all of those tomatoes.
I think I can be happy with a smooth sauce.
Dried and fresh herbs into the sweat until you can smell all of them wafting out of the pot. Stir occasionally to free up the aromatics and to keep stuff from burning.
Then pour in the half bottle of wine.
You can drink the other half, or pour it into a saucepan and reduce it by two thirds, pour it into a container and put it in your fridge when it cools down. Then anytime you want to add a red wine flavor to something you don’t have time to cook for half an hour, put in a dash of the red wine reduction. Tastes even better if you stir in half a teaspoon of a low sodium beef stock reduction or vegetable stock reduction before you reduce the wine.
Now add in the 6 lb. can of San Marzanos. If you have a total of 9 lbs. of fresh tomatoes, go for it, but since my yield was reduced after snacking on fresh ones all summer and cooking up fried green tomato sandwiches, and preparing the occasional batch of salsa, all I had left was 3 lbs.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, put the lid on it and let it bubble away for a couple hours. Some folks cook their sauce for up to six hours or more, but I’m not your grandmother, so that ain’t happening. Each time you walk through the kitchen as your house fills up with the mouth watering scent, put in a long handled spoon and give that pot a stir. Parts of your sauce will start to stick to the bottom of the pan as bits caramelize, so you’ll need to free that up, back into your sauce – about every 10-15 minutes or so.
The tomatoes’ little skins should be floating around the pot about now, and all the vegetables should be falling apart, so get out your immersion blender and finish the job, after you add a quarter cup of good olive oil. Blend until the sauce is nice and smooth.
Now put that pot back on to simmer uncovered for at least another hour. This will let some of the water cook off and thicken up that sauce very nicely.
I popped down the street to the local hardware store in Brookland (great place, cramped and junky like the best small local hardware stores, and staffed with folks who can decode the mess and tell you where EVERYTHING is – I’m not kidding, if you lose a wind-up key from a mantle clock from 30 years ago, they have it in a drawer in that store somewhere, and they’ll know where they put it), and bought a dozen Ball – Mason jars. They had the old version in a cardboard box. Why do I prefer that version? Because basic instructions for canning are packed in the box and make a very nice bookmark for the canning book I bought but will likely never read now that I have the short-form. 🙂
You know I’ll read it.
I washed my jars, filled them up with water and boiled them at 180 degrees for 10 minutes. Emptied out the water. Filled the jars up with sauce from a ladle to half an inch of head-space. Cleaned the jars up. Put on the lids, then submerged the jars in a deep lobster-pot that I heated up again to 180 degrees for another 10 minutes, took the jars out with kitchen tongs, tightened the lids up again (they always need another little twist after the heat hits ’em), and set them on a cooling rack in my kitchen. They’ll be ready for the pantry once they cool completely and should keep for months if I read the little card correctly.
It made 6 full quarts of sauce, plus a half quart taster. I put some pasta on to cook, got some frozen pre-cooked meatballs from the chest freezer, heated them up in the sauce, and threw in my mostly cooked spaghetti along with a little bit of pasta water.
Sure, I can make my own meatballs, but part of the reason for all that sauce is on those nights when I want dinner in 10 minutes, and there’s nobody in the house who wants to spend a lot of time or energy chopping and stirring and browning, etc, a handful of some pre-cooked meatballs in some sauce, and a handful of pasta, a few swipes at the Reggiano Parmesan wedge with the potato peeler (love a thick ribbon of cheese) and I’m feasting in 10 minutes. I could even make a salad to go with if feeling ambitious.
Homemade sauce is SOOO good.