Thursday, October 2, 2008

Red Everywhere! (Easy Tomato Sauce)

With the plethora of good ingredients to be found at my local farmer’s market, I am often looking for ideas on how to prolong the fresh (and cheap!) flavors I come across. The problem lies within what exactly to use an ingredient for that will yield multiple uses. Items like corn can be frozen directly, potatoes store for a while on their own, and apples can be made into pretty much whatever you want. But what about tomatoes? With long term storage, you have a few options. You can make a lot of salsa and preserve it, you can stew them and use them as an addition for dishes, or you can make sauce. When I was handed a large bag of tomatoes over the weekend, I opted for the last option, sauce making. I delved into a few cookbooks for some inspiration and found some common themes, though some did not really follow what I wanted out of this sauce. I wanted something that was unlike what’s in the can (though I use that stuff and it’s perfectly fine). I wanted rustic texture, full flavor, and something I could just add to pasta or pour over chicken and be happy with it. But first, some prep needed to be done.

Tomatoes have one part that is overall undesirable in sauce. The skin. Getting rid of it is quite easy. All you will need is a medium or large pot of water, a bowl, some ice, a slotted spoon, and a knife. Got it? Good. Heat the pot of water over high heat until almost boiling. Wash the tomatoes and score and x along the bottom side of the tomato, piercing the skin but not cutting deep into the flesh. This will allow the skin to pull back when in the hot water. Lower (use the spoon to avoid splashing and blisters) the tomatoes in the water, being careful not to overcrowd, and cook for one minute. Remove from the water and shock in a bowl filled with some ice and water. When the tomatoes are cool (about another minute), peel away the skins using your fingers or a small knife and place in a bowl to hold until they are needed. I prefer to use larger tomatoes for this, as they have a better yield of flesh. You can also use an equivalent weight in crushed tomatoes for a nice alternative at other times during the year.

Some people might say “wait, what about the seeds”? Contrary to some beliefs, the seeds do not make the sauce bitter, so I say leave them in. If you have a food mill, by all means, strain out the seeds using a larger setting. Since I don’t have a food mill, I attempted running my tomatoes through a mesh strainer and then realized all the good stuff I would be leaving out (namely the juicy pulp surrounding the seeds). No good. So I opted instead for my immersion stick blender once the sauce was finished. This gave my sauce a slightly coarse texture, which I prefer. You can also use a blender or food processor, but make sure to cool the sauce slightly before letting it rip. It also works well chunky.

One last point. This sauce is made from mostly tomatoes. Which are acidic. So use a non reactive pan such as anodized aluminum or enamel coated cast iron. Non stick will work too, just pay attention to it. This also means that simmering this sauce for hours will make it taste like gross. Try to limit the timing, though if you want your sauce thicker you can reduce it down slightly or add a thickening agent (such as corn starch and water).

Rustic Tomato Sauce

1 c onion, diced
½ c celery, diced
½ c carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, skins removed and chopped (or 1 1/2 pound crushed, canned tomatoes)
3 T + 2T olive oil
¼ c red wine
Salt (at least 2 T)
2 T fresh basil, chopped fine
1 T fresh parsley, chopped fine
2 bay leaves
1 T tomato paste

In a large pot, heat 3 T olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until wilted, about 5 minutes (you can brown them, it adds more flavor depth to the dish). Add the celery, carrots, and some salt, sauté until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the bay leaf and wine, allowing the wine to mostly bubble off. Add the tomatoes and bring the sauce to a simmer. Once it reaches this, simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the 30 minutes is up, add the basil, parsley, and tomato paste. Cook for another 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings to your liking, blend to a coarse sauce if desired, cool, and use. Can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen for future use.


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