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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Friday, September 28, 2012

Putting up with: Tomato Sauce

This is my husband's special recipe so I'll hand this one over to him... (JH)

Canning Tomato Sauce

Guest post by Matthew Brown

If it isn’t obvious already, Jen is the real chef in the house but I do like to help out and am not useless in the kitchen (or with the camera). Every fall, we go to the Trail’s End farmer’s market, get a bushel of Roma tomatoes and I make a pasta sauce.

I've been refining my recipe over the years. I started out using canned tomatoes and dry herbs, but these days, fresh is best and other than added tomato paste for a little added richness and thickness, everything is fresh from the market or our garden.
This is what we started off with:

tomato sauce ingredients

While you can substitute hotter or milder peppers to suit your tastes, we started with:
1 bushel of Roma tomatoes
3 large red onions
1 ½ cups of fresh basil
9 Hungarian peppers
9 super chili peppers
18 cloves of fresh garlic
9 bay leaves
3 tablespoons of salt
1 ½ - 3 tablespoons of sugar
3 sprigs of oregano
1 sprig of fresh rosemary (or 1 ½ tablespoons of Italian seasoning)
Olive oil

First off, you need to peel all those lovely tomatoes:

fresh roma tomatoes

With that many tomatoes, you’d be crazy to do it just with a paring knife. Jen looked online and found that the easiest way to do it was to set up a little assembly line with a big pot of boiling water and a big pot of ice water.

ice bath

Before you put the tomatoes into the boiling water, use a knife to score an X at the bottom end of the tomato:

x tomato skin

With the size of our pots, we could fit about 10 tomatoes at a time into the boiling water. They only need about a minute or two in the boiling water, then you can transfer them into the ice bath. This loosens the skins. With some of them, you can just squeeze them and the fruit will pop right out of the skin; others, you’ll need to give them a little help and peel the skins off by hand or with the edge of a paring knife, but it is pretty easy regardless.

peeling tomatoes

After a little work, you’ll be left with several big bowls of skinless tomatoes.

peeled tomatoes

Before you move on to the next step, you just need to use your handy paring knife and cut the little stem parts out, so they end up looking like:

peeled tomatoes

Next up, prepping your onions, peppers and garlic!

red onion

You’ll use an immersion blender later on, so the dicing doesn't need to be too precise. Considering the amount of tomatoes involved, we needed to cook our sauce in three big pots. As I like to be organized [read: anal retentive] in the kitchen, I ended up making three individual bowls with equal amounts of onions and Hungarian peppers. (One large red onion and three Hungarian peppers to each bowl.)

onions and peppers

For the garlic and super peppers, I just used the little chopping bowl in Jen’s handy dandy Kitchen Aid food processor to chop together six cloves of garlic and three seeded super peppers for each batch. (Tip: super peppers are small so they are a pain to cut open and de-seed. If you just cut the stem end off, you can roll the pepper between your fingers and the seeds will fall right out. Huzah!)

chopped onions and garlic

Now, time for some cookin’! In each of your large pots, drizzle some olive oil into the bottoms and put them to medium-high heat. Throw in all your onions, Hungarian peppers, garlic and super peppers and just cook them long enough to get them softened up, so that the onions start to turn translucent.

onions and peppers

Once that’s done, add in all your tomatoes. Before I was able to use the immersion blender, I used the edge of a pretty sturdy plastic flipper (?) [Ed. Spatula?] to cut the tomatoes into smaller chunks. No need to be gentle at this stage. Now you are ready to blend.

tomato sauce

We’re not huge fans of big chucks of tomato in our sauce, so I kept at it until the sauce was pretty smooth. Now you’re ready to “kicks the flavour, like Steven King writes horror”. [This is a guest post, which is why House of Pain lyrics are allowed to be quoted.]
Chop up all that beautiful fresh basil:


I just divided it pretty evenly into the three pots and then added one tablespoon of salt, ½ tablespoon or a little more of sugar, ½ tablespoon of Italian season or finely chopped rosemary, a little bit of finely chopped oregano and a drizzle of olive oil to each batch.

fresh tomato sauce

The bay leaf is just in that photo for artistic purposes. I used the immersion blender again to get everything nicely mixed together, then put the bay leaves back in while keeping it at a low simmer for about half an hour.

Since Jen already covered the canning of her salsa verde so wonderfully, I won’t get into too much detail on the canning, except for a few key differences.
To keep everything safe and shelf-stable, you need to use a ½ teaspoon of citric acid in the bottom of each jar.

citric acid

citric acid for canning

Then, once all your lids are prepared and jars are sterilized / boiled and ready to go as in the salsa verde post, you’re ready to start filling the jars.

canning tomato sauce

The other key difference between the salsa verde and the pasta sauce is the time you need to boil them after the jars are filled. Since salsa verde has so much lime juice / citric acid, it doesn't need to boil as long, but since we are just using the regular canning method and not a pressure canner, and since the jars are so big, it is recommended that you keep the submerged, filled jars at a boil for 45 minutes. Better safe than sorry, as they say.

canning tomato sauce

However, in the end, it is worth the time and effort. The sauce is delicious and I know exactly what went into it and it is something I’m proud of. The cost of all the ingredients was probably the same as what it would have cost me to go to the store an just buy 12 jars of decent sauce, but that’s not really the point, is it? Not only was it fun to do, but I’m proud of the end result and also know it is healthy and that I don’t have to add anything extra to the sauce to make it flavorful like I would with a store-bought sauce.
After a long-but-fun day of cooking and canning, we treated ourselves to a nice glass of red wine and an absolutely delicious bowl of pasta with zucchini and freshly grated parmesan.  

spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce

How to can tomato sauce

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