Getting Saucy at Tomato Time!

Despite the blight and the wet, cold weather, my tomatoes are finally ripening. Actually, my biggest threat to the harvest this year has been that all my Guinea hens have been eating them. It’s quite annoying.

I got a great variety of tomato plants this spring from Seed Saver’s Exchange and Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, and they seem pretty healthy. Plus, I did ask the experts at Organic Gardening, and even if there is a bit of blight, the tomatoes are still edible, which is a good thing, since being married to an Italian means I am responsible for a lot of sauce. Oh, I could buy sauce in the store, and we often do. But I feel the pull of tradition quite strongly, and can’t resist. Store-bought sauce is always delicious, and thicker and saucier than homemade, but homemade has a taste of summer that just can’t be faked. And so, I make sauce.

Over the years I’ve gotten my sauce making down to its most simple essence. I have tried removing the skins and seeds, which is really time-consuming, and there’s not that much of a taste benefit, if you ask me. (Plus, don’t you think there are a lot of vitamins in those skins?) I’ve tried adding all sorts of flavorings. I’ve tried canning. But I’ve finally landed on a simple sauce that I freeze in wide-mouth mason jars and everyone loves (or at least no one complains). You can always doctor-up the sauce when you heat it to eat, but for just plain old sauce that’s good for everything, here is my secret recipe:

1: Take a big sauce pot and put it on the stove. Add a thin layer of olive oil.

2: Fill your blender, Vitamix, or food processor with cleaned and halved tomatoes, with every single bad spot cut out. This is a very important step—never eat, cook, or preserve something that isn’t perfect.

3: Add one or two raw cloves of garlic, ½ teaspoon of salt, and a sprig of basil and blend to a pulp.

4: Add the garlic/basil mix to the pot.

5: Keep adding blended tomatoes, garlic, salt, and basil until you have run out of tomatoes. (Sometimes I’ll have 8 to 10 blenders full of tomato pulp).

6: Simmer on the stove for hours. Really, hours. You want the sauce to at least get reduced to half of what it was when you first put it in. If you have patience to wait longer, it will only get better.

7: Clean some wide-mouth mason jars, fill with the hot sauce, and put the lids on.

8: When the jars have cooled significantly, put them in the freezer. Make sure to label and date them.

When fall and winter come around and you want to eat the sauce, either thaw it in the microwave (after removing the lid, of course) or let it thaw on the countertop. I often add butter, hard-boiled eggs, sausage, or ground beef. And I always top it with Romano cheese. But you can use it in dozens of ways. I pretty much guarantee you won’t have any left by the time next summer rolls around.

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14 Responses to Getting Saucy at Tomato Time!

  1. Donna in Delaware August 28, 2009 at 8:08 am #

    That sounds lovely Maria. I’ve always wanted to make and can my own sauce. This year I only grew a couple of tomato plants, since I got a late start because of the wet, cool spring. I had to place them in pots on my deck. I didn’t get much because by the time the tomatoes started doing well, I left for vacation for 3 weeks and a friend who was watching my house, came by and reaped the benefits. All wasn’t lost since I drove to some local farms and got wonderful Brandywines, beefsteaks and grape tomatoes. I decided to make tomato sandwiches out of them and use the grapes in salads, leaving the growing until next year and hoping that next year’s weather will be more suitable for growing. I’ll try your recipe though, thanks for the recipe.

  2. Susan in PA August 28, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    It’s been 3 days since I attempted my first batch of “labor-intensive, blanched, skinned, seeded” sauce and after all that effort, it wasn’t even good! I was going to run back to Ragu with my tail between my legs, but I will try your method first—thanks for giving me hope for homemade sauce!

  3. claire August 28, 2009 at 11:00 am #

    I use the same method to make my sauce ,only I freeze it in freezer bags as they can be flattened and therefor I can store a larger number of them in my freezer. I also find that I get more from my tomato plants if I pick the large ones just before they ripen and then finish the ripening in a warm .dark spot. This allows the smaller tomatoes at the top of the plant to get bigger as the plant doesn’t have to send all it’s energy into the large, ripening ones. Some of my tomatoes grew to 1.5 pounds each. Here in northern Saskatchewan ,we have to use many ways to extend our crop as our growing season isn’t that long. This year we had frost in mid June and even now our overnigt temps are just above freezing at night.

  4. Michelle in NY August 28, 2009 at 11:20 am #

    I have an organic farm and usually have LOTS of tomatoes. I just quarter the tomatoes, add peppers, onions, garlic and whatever and boil down (for hours) in a 5 quart pot. Add roma tomatoes if you want a thicker sauce for making pizza (which I do). I also freeze in gallon size freezer bags as I usually have about 45 bags every season. Then just thaw and add additional ingredients if you like. It is very yummy in the winter when you have lasagna baking in the oven made with your own tomato sauce!

  5. Amanda August 28, 2009 at 4:45 pm #

    I’ve feel the same way about blanching skinning and seeding–total waste of time! It’s kind of how I feel about peeling potatoes,too. Why bother?

  6. Denise August 28, 2009 at 5:49 pm #

    I read someplace (maybe cooks illustrated) that the stuff around the seeds has loads of flavor, though the seeds can be quite bitter. The time saver is significant here with no seeding or skinning.
    I would suggest that the herbs be added at the end of the cooking. Essential oils (from the herbs) will cook out (evaporate) rather quickly and especially with such a long cooking time. I will try this recipe… and give feed back.

  7. Gary August 30, 2009 at 1:20 am #

    My tomatoes are still very green and small, cool weather and rain to blame, have hopes of making salsa and many bacon and tomato sandwiches. Your recipe looks easy enough to try to make sauce so I will give it a shot. I too will try the bag method since we don’t own a freezer besides the small one above our fridge.

  8. Maria (farm country kitchen) August 30, 2009 at 4:39 pm #

    Hey ya’ll!

    The tomatoes are on the stove now and filling the house with the happy smell of sauce. Bubbling, bubbling, foaming and slowly ever so slowly reducing. Manicotti for dinner tonight if I have any strength left. Otherwise spaghetti.

  9. Donna in Delaware August 31, 2009 at 8:08 am #

    I’m jealous. But, next year………..

  10. Donna in Wisconsin August 31, 2009 at 11:00 am #

    Sounds great, Maria. I like the idea of the freezer bags too. We had another cold spell last night (threatened frost in the forecast, but I don’t think we got it). Looking forward to trying this.

  11. Sandy in Wisconsin September 10, 2009 at 3:24 pm #

    Does anyone have an easy, delicious recipe for salsa? Possibly one that can be frozen rather than canned? Thank you!

  12. Mary in Iowa September 26, 2009 at 1:21 am #

    I don’t blanch and skin the tomatoes, but I do remove most of the seeds to avoid appendicitis. That’s probably an old wives tale, but at my age, why take chances? I flip the seeds into a strainer over a 4 qt. saucepan, and stir and press them over and over until no more liquid drips into the pan. I then discard the seeds. The seeded tomatoes go into a large heavy pot. After the tomatoes have slowly bubbled (covered) for an hour, I scoop them in batches into the strainer to partially drain into the pan below. They then go into the food processor for pureeing, and back into the pot to cook down a bit more. The sauce is quite thick, about half way between store sauce and tomato paste. I don’t season it until it is thawed and cooked into whatever recipe I’m making. The juice in the pan is boiled for about 10 minutes and frozen in jars. It is much sweeter and yummier than store-bought tomato juice. By draining much of the liquid, you get two products and save lots of energy needed to cook the tomatoes for hours to evaporate the juice.

  13. Wendy July 27, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    I’m guessing you could probably process the hot-packed jars in a water bath for 15 minutes, like I do for salsa? I actually prefer canning to freezing. It’s hurricane season here, and you never know when or how long the power might go out. I live in a neighborhood with lots of large, old trees. I love the trees, but it’s not unusual to have a big branch break somewhere in the neighborhood during a big storm.

  14. Gina September 13, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    My family and I make our Sauce every year from fresh tomatoes. It’s a family tradition. and we call it Nonna Fina Sauce, after my mother in law who use to make at least 100 – 32 oz containers every year. Our sauce is not loose and it taste heavenly!! My daughters and I just finished cooking 4 bushels of tomatoes . You only use plum tomatoes because they have the most pulp. The other tomatoes have too much juice/water. We put them in plastic containers and freeze them. Here is my families recipe.
    I have pics and step by step video if you would like to see this and my italian recipes go to http://mamagrecipes.blogspot.com

    Fresh Garden Tomato Sauce. A September Ritual. Us Italians just like to do more work! 4 Bushels = 7 hours of prep/cooking = 70 – 32oz plastic containers to freeze! Yes that’s right. I have a freezer Just for my sauce. Now that’s Italian or I’m just crazy. Maybe a little of both.
    1st Step: Plum Tomatoes. Wash w/ dish soap and warm water. Place plum tomatoes on a large towel so they can dry.

    2. Cut them up into 4 pieces. In large deep cooking pot put a little bit of olive oil just enough to coat the bottom and then put in the chopped up tomatoes. Only fill the pot 3/4 the way full.
    Add 1 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp garlic, 4 pieces chopped basil. Boil and stir until tomatoes become soft and you see the skin on them peeling off. If you pinch one the sink peels off easy.

    3. Take the tomatoes and pour them into a tomato milling machine or strainer machine. (pics on my blogspot) As you turn the handle you will see the pulp and juices come out on one side and the skin of the tomato on the other side.

    Put the skins of the tomato through atleast 3 – 4 times. You will get a lot of pulp from the skins.

    4. Next throw out the skins and place all the tomato sauce into a deep cooking pot.
    Add 1/4 cup Olive Oil
    2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp sugar
    1/2 tsp black pepper, granulated garlic powder
    6 gloves of garlic. sliced in half only
    8 chopped up pieces of basil.

    Stir frequently. Cover until it begins to boil then keep it uncovered through the rest of the time for about 30 – 45 minutes. The sauce will become thicker by boiling out the water from the tomatoes.

    5. Place in 32 oz or 16 oz plastic containers and freeze. Last for over a year. To defrost- Lift cover and place on top of the container. Place in microwave for 7 minutes and then pour into a sauce pot & cook until hot.

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