At the end of the summer you might notice your Italian American friends unable to play croquet with you for an entire weekend because they’re “making sauce.” I was always really jealous of this ritual. Jealous because it was the essence of a domesticity that always seemed out of my reach. And also really jealous because I never had a yard.
Homemade tomato sauce in all its glory
While looking for some info on this here internet, I didn’t really find any really good directions for from scratch tomato sauce, so hopefully this little photo essay will be helpful. This is basically what I’ve gleaned from sitting in my friend’s kitchen when I was ten and just talking to my friends about making sauce. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just a bunch of hours to kill and preferably a friend or two to make it with you. Forget 30 minute meals, how about 6 hour ones? What better way to bond with someone than over a simmering pot garlicky tomato sauce? Video games or a movie have got nothing on this.
Michelle and I were painfully naive when we thought we would actually make enough sauce to jar it for the winter. I didn’t weigh them, but we had 3 dozen* nice sized tomatoes that ended up making about two spaghetti sauce jarfuls of sauce. Instead of giving you a recipe, I am just going to give guidelines, since your quantity and ingredients may vary. Good olive oil and lots of garlic are obvious, and for herbs we had a lot of oregano and thyme so that is what we used. I would definitely recommend fresh herbs, though.
Okay, make with the sauce! Besides the good old standbys like a knife and cutting board, here’s what you’ll need to have ready:
- At least three big mixing bowls since there will be lots of transferring and prepping going on.
- A lot of ice for shocking the tomatoes once they’ve been blanched.
- An immersion blender or just a regular old blender.
- A big gigantic pot, or what I call a “soup kitchen pot.”
- A slotted spoon.
First you’ll need to boil a huge pot of water. We’re going to blanch the tomatoes to get their skin off. To make peeling easy you score the tomatoes with an “X” on the tops and bottoms.
We didn’t even bother pulling the stickers off our tomatoes since they are going to be skinned anyway. Once the water is boiling, prepare your ice bath. Just fill a big bowl with half ice, half cold water. Have it at the ready.
Drop your tomatoes into the boiling water in manageable batches. We did somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 at a time. Blanching means you are just flash boiling them, we found that one minute worked best. When the minute is up, fish them out with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the ice bath.
Michelle was working at lightening speed!
Once everyone has been ice bathed and is cool to the touch, it’s time to move on to the peeling. It should be really easy, just peel down from where you’ve scored. Place all the peeled guys in a bowl.
Now it’s time for seeding. Slice the tomato across the waist, not top to bottom. This will give you the best access to the seeds. Next, we seed! Just smush your fingers in there and get the seeds out. Do it over a bowl so that you can strain the liquid later and have tomato juice. If there are a few seed stragglers, don’t worry about it. Just do the best you can.
Once the seeds are out, over a big separate bowl, pull all the tomato-y stuff away from the rough core at the top and drop the rest into the bowl. Discard the cores. We toyed with cutting around the core, but this way was the fastest, most efficient and the funnest. The bottom halves of the tomato won’t have the core/stem thingy, obviously, so just mush those up with your fingers and drop them in.
Now comes the delicious smelling part. We used about half a head of minced garlic and just a small amount of chopped red onion, maybe a cup’s worth. In the big pot that you blanched the tomatoes in, saute the garlic and onion in an ample amount of olive oil, a few tablespoon’s worth. When onion is translucent, add the tomatoes, along with salt and black pepper. Don’t over salt, it is going to cook down and concentrate. We used a scant teaspoon. Also, add some sugar to cut down on the acidity. Four teaspoons worked perfectly for our tomatoes, your mileage may vary.
The next step is easy, you just cook it uncovered until it reduces to about 1/4 its amount. This was accomplished in about 2 hours. Keep the heat high and stir often. It will start smelling like Sicily within half an hour. Once it’s cooked down, puree with an immersion blender, or in batches in your regular blender. Then add fresh herbs, but be frugal about it. As you’ll see the sauce tastes rich and succulent without them and you don’t want to mask the taste, you just want to accentuate it. Simmer for just a few minutes more to let the herbs release their magic.
Just like mama never made.
I can honestly say that I’ve never tasted anything so amazing. Like I said, we were surprised to be left with such a small amount, but you know what? It was totally worth it and we’d do it again in a heart beat. Viva the sloth food movement!
*These tomatoes didn’t actually come from my yard, they were a windfall from a camping trip last weekend. But the tomatoes in my garden are doing really well so I expect I’ll be doing this again in a little while.