Saturday, September 10, 2016

Simple Summer Tomato Sauce

Why? Because this winter, when it is cold and bleak, you can pull this sauce out of your freezer for a bright taste of summer. 
Warning - once you've had fresh tomato sauce, you will be spoiled, and canned sauce will never taste the same again. 

But it must be so difficult.


You can make it as simple or as intricate as your tastes demand. I've poured through a ton of recipes, and most call for steps that you may choose to add later, but here we will start with a basic simple sauce. Still don't believe me? Here's the summary:

Cut up tomatoes
Cut up onion

No peeling, seeding, straining, sautéing, or anything fancy. The key is to let it simmer low and slow. 

I know...lots of questions, I'm going to put the Q&A at the end for the folks who just want the basics (and to keep you in suspense!)

Here's how it's done:

Simple Summer Tomato Sauce

2 dozen medium-sized ripe tomatoes
1 large red onion
1/4 cup olive oil
Fresh garlic (optional)
Salt to taste

Cut the stem end out of the tomatoes.
Cut the tomatoes in quarters (4 pieces).
Roughly chop the red onion.
Place all ingredients into a large stock pot.
Cover with lid.
Cook over low heat until tomatoes & onions break down, stirring every so often. (Approximately 90 minutes)
Remove lid from pot.
Continue cooking until sauce is "reduced" (thicker & more substantial)
(Approximately 30 minutes).
Use immersion blender to purée to a smooth, velvety sauce (or blend for a shorter time for a chunkier sauce).
Adjust seasoning to taste (remember this is plain tomato sauce).
I like to let this sauce continue to simmer for a while after the purée.  
Place in freezer-safe containers. 

What? No herbs or spices?
When the sauce is this basic, you can use it in a variety of different dishes. It is more versatile this way. Add the spices as you use it in different recipes. didn't peel or seed the tomatoes?
Nope. When it is cooked low & slow like this, the seeds & peel will soften & blend right into the sauce. The immersion blender is great for the purée process and will ensure a smooth consistency.

Could this be cooked faster?
Yes. But it would not taste as rich and would most likely be better if you peeled & seeded the tomatoes first. For a really big batch like this, I let it simmer for hours. The taste is worth it. 

Can I "can" this in jars?
If you'd rather "can" this then freeze it, omit the olive oil from the process.  If for some reason there is any issue with the seal of the jars, the olive oil could become a primary source of botchulism. 

Could I do this in the slow cooker?
Probably so. 

What if I don't have an immersion blender?
Then let it cool for a bit and purée it in a standard blender.  
I didn't think I needed an immersion blender, but I found a very inexpensive one at a local drug store. I found so many uses for it, and it was so convenient for mashing potatoes/cauliflower, making sauces, and so many other things that we finally bought a "nice" one. Do yourself a favor and buy one - you won't regret it. 

What kind of tomatoes should I use?
There are many opinions on this issue, and my best advice is simply this: use the ones that you can get.  
I've used the very end of our garden tomatoes which were a mix of large and small, red and yellow.  
If you have a local farmers market, go andask for "soup tomatoes." These are the tomatoes that are usually a little over ripe and may have some "bad" spots that you have to cut out.  The plus is that you can usually get them for a great price. 

What else could I add?
A bay leaf - for richness (don't forget to remove before the purée).
Chopped carrots - for sweetness, body, and a little extra vegetable.
Red Bell Pepper - for color & spice.
Fresh lemon juice - for brightness (add this at the very end).
A pinch of sugar - for sweetness.

Why a red onion?
Mainly because of preference. You could certainly use a white or yellow one. 
Some varieties of tomatoes have more of an orange color when cooked. The red onion adds to the deep red color of the sauce. 

Do I need to measure the ingredients/follow instructions exactly? 
Nope. That's the joy of cooking. If you like onion, add more. If you want a richer sauce, cook it a little longer. Want a chunkier sauce with no seeds? Seed the tomatoes, shorten cook time, and purée less. Cooking should be fun and a chance to experiment with what makes you and your family happy.  

After the purée, my sauce looks orange instead of red - Yep. Ever wonder why all of the tomato sauce is the same color in the store? Red food coloring. If you want a deeper red sauce, add a few drops of red food coloring. It doesn't affect the taste at all.  

Will my house smell amazing while this is cooking? 
Absolutely. It's one of our favorite perks of a slow-simmered sauce.  

After a day of simmering, we've added a little basil, oregano, red pepper, meatballs  and grated parmesan for a delicious dinner. 
We are so grateful for our local farmers market and the local farmer who made this gorgeous sauce possible!