Happy September, everyone! It’s that time of year when we start really racking our brains to figure out how to best use our waning harvests. Of special concern this year is the tomatoes, simply because we have so many of them. As the majority of plants are on their way out, the tomatoes that remain are often, but not always, a little tougher than those from more timely harvests. Since we’ve been fiddling around with a teensy kitchen remodel this summer, and since we didn’t feel like dragging out all the canning supplies this past weekend, we decided to make some sauce!
Fact is, we’ve been making tomato sauces of this or that kind since harvesting began. It’s just about the best way we can think of to use up tomatoes that are in any state – from not quite ripe to overripe and everything in between. Because we use tomato sauces frequently throughout the year, we always look forward to making the best of the best during the summer. (This year we also tried freezing some sauce that we made a couple months ago; hopefully it’ll survive into the winter.) In any event, this week we thought we’d go through our sauce-making process, not that it’s anything particularly groundbreaking. If you have a favorite recipe, we’d love to see it in the comments!
First off, you need, well…tomatoes, and lots of them, of any variety you like. Set your oven to 400 degrees and place your tomatoes on sheet pans that have been sprayed with a little cooking spray and/or covered with foil. Cut large tomatoes in half and place them cut side down on the pans. Small tomatoes don’t have to be cut, but you can if you like. While not totally necessary, you can also season them with a little drizzled olive oil, salt, and pepper. Once the oven is heated, roast the tomatoes for 20-25 minutes, or until the skins have browned and shriveled. Remove the pans from the oven and let the tomatoes cool for 30 minutes. If you use mostly regular tomatoes, be careful when removing the pans from the oven because the tomatoes will likely be swimming in juice.
As a general rule, paste tomatoes, like Roma and San Marzano, make the best sauces because they contain lots of flesh and little moisture compared to your standard round sandwich tomatoes. So the resulting sauce tends to be thicker. While we had some paste tomatoes on hand, most weren’t, but we have a trick on how to deal with those juicy tomatoes — strain them!
Okay, so it’s not a very fancy trick, but once the tomatoes have cooled, just plop them all into a strainer and let them sit for as long as you like. The longer the cooked tomatoes strain, the less watery the sauce will be. We usually let them strain for 20 minutes or so.
Once strained, it’s time to mash them up. For this, you can either work in batches by ladling the cooked tomatoes into a blender and grinding them, or, like we do, place all the tomatoes into a large bowl and use a hand mixer to puree them.
Continue with whichever process until all the tomatoes are blended. If using a blender, transfer the puree into a large bowl.
Now, if you don’t mind a sauce that contains tomatoes seeds and skin, you could use this puree as is, cooking it down with whatever spices you like. We tried that awhile back but didn’t care for the texture, so that’s when we started straining our tomato puree. If you’re going to cook the puree right away, you can strain it into a saucepan like we show below. If not, then you can strain it into another large bowl or directly into storage containers of your choosing.
So besides a large vessel of some sort, you’ll also need a fine strainer — one with little handles that rest on a containers’ edges is quite helpful. First, situate the strainer and pour in some puree.
Then with a spatula or spoon, start working the sauce through the strainer.
How long this process takes depends on the thickness of the puree. Thinner puree with obviously go through a little quicker than thicker stuff. But either way, it’s worth it. You’ll know your done with a batch of puree when you’re left with a paste of tomato detritus in the strainer. (We usually discard this paste in the compost, but if there’s something else we can do with it, please let us know! Can the seeds be saved and replanted? We figured not since the tomatoes have been cooked.)
Continue straining the mixture until you’re left with a very smooth puree.
From this point on, the process is up to you: save or cook. For a simple sauce, we add in salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a little sugar, and bring the puree to a boil. Then we let it simmer for up to an hour. (This sauce makes a great base for more complicated sauces, such as enchilada sauce or veggie/meat spaghetti sauce.) Since we like to have a simple red sauce on hand at all times for pasta and pizza, we usually put in dried basil and oregano as well. Once the mixture has simmer and thickened up a little, we transfer it into storage containers.
For this not-quite quart of sauce, we used two sheet pans of a variety of tomatoes – somewhere around 5-7 pounds. It may not seem like a lot results from this labor of love, but this sauce goes a long way. It knocks the socks off the stuff you get in the grocery store taste-wise, so you don’t need to slather your food in gobs of it. Mmmm…now all we need is a plate of warm pasta and some bread salad…
Our red sauce-making days aren’t nearly over as the tomatoes simply won’t quit. Yum and yum!
In non-tomato news, we also cooked up a quick hot pepper sauce, which is nothing more than hot peppers and vinegar. (This is bound to warm up all the bean and squash soups we’ll be making this winter!)
First, we grabbed all the cayenne peppers that we had harvested and cut off all their green tops.
Then we poured a pint of white vinegar into a sauce pan and slowly heated it up to almost boiling. As the vinegar was warming, we cut small slits into each pepper and placed them in the pan. (The cuts helps release the flavor of the peppers into the vinegar over time.)
Bring the mixture to a light boil. Once your kitchen smells like peppers and vinegar (it won’t take long!) carefully transfer peppers and vinegar into a storage container.
Let the mixture cool down to room temperature, and then close up the container and store. Most of the recipes we read said that the sauce could be ready in as little as two weeks, but the longer it sits, the more potent it’ll get. The container should be shelf stable until opened, at which point it should probably be stored in the fridge.
A now the house smells delicious. Not a bad way to start off the fall. 🙂