Tomato Sauce To Write Home About

This year we finished up our annual day of tomato canning with over 100 jars of crushed perfection. Alas, no matter how many we make, it’s never enough to last through the year. You’d think we were dealing with gold bars the way everyone in my family gets all greedy and stealth-like when dividing up the shares. I kid you not when I say I have had to smuggle jars out of my house to share with friends, and even my grandmother. It’s never pretty, but that’s just how treasure is.

So, until my allotment runs out, I’ll be feasting on my favorite meals and not rationing properly at all. Of course, all my favorites start with tomato sauce.

Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes about 6-8 servings (I always make at least this much so there is extra to freeze.)

Ingredients:
2 one qt. jars (or 2 28oz store bought cans of whole tomatoes*)
1 large yellow onion
a few fresh basil leaves
sea salt to taste
extra virgin olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves (whole)

*Store bought canned tomatoes often contain citric acid and other additives. Because tomatoes are naturally quite acidic, they stay well preserved without additives. Look for a brand that contains just tomatoes, or tomatoes and fresh basil.

In a large, deep sauce pot heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on med-low. I use a deep pot because the sauce doesn’t lose as much water while cooking and ends up with a better consistency.

While it’s heating, slice your onion as thinly as possible. When the oil is nice and hot, add onions and allow them to caramelize on low for 5-10 minutes. Make sure that they do not start to brown.

sliced-yellow-onion-for-fresh-tomato-sauce

Once the onions are translucent, add in your tomatoes. Here’s a tip: pour the tomatoes over the back of a wooden spoon to keep from splattering yourself.

sliced-onions-carmelized-in-olive-oil

Turn up the heat and bring everything to a slow boil. Then, reduce the heat to low and simmer. Stir in in the garlic cloves, basil and a pinch or two of salt. Simmer on low, covered, for at least 45 minutes. If you have the time, you can let it cook for longer. Stir every 15-20 minutes with a wooden spoon.

simmering-fresh-tomato-sauce

During the last 15 minutes of cooking, remove the lid to allow the sauce to thicken up. Taste again and add more salt if necessary.

Freeze the unused portion for quick weeknight meals.

Smile, You’re Tomato Canning

Every August that I can remember has ended with a long, hot day of tomato canning. It’s summer’s most fantastic ritual. All of my extended family members gather in someone’s backyard to sort, cut, boil, crush, jar and seal boxes and boxes of warm, fresh tomatoes (local, but not homegrown I confess.) The smell is more wonderful that you can possible imagine. It’s like all the fantastic things you are going to cook this year, mixed with love and basil. Since last Friday was canning day, I’m kick-starting this blog with an entire week devoted to its namesake, the tomato. Today, we start at the beginning.

How to Can Tomatoes
What you will need:

  1. plum tomatoes
  2. fresh basil
  3. sharp knife
  4. large pot
  5. glass jars with lids and rings made for canning
  6. slotted spoon
  7. tomato grinder (manual or electric)
  8. tongs
  9. large bucket/container
  10. funnel
  11. strainer

Before you start, make sure that all of your jars, lid rings and other tools are clean and sterile to avoid trapping bacteria in your jars that will spoil. Running the jars and lids through the dishwasher is an easy way to clean a bunch at once.

Tomato Selection
Plum tomatoes are ideal for tomato sauce because they are pulpy and contain less water than other varieties. There are many types of plum tomatoes, but we usually buy Romas because they are grown locally. San Marzano is another prized plum tomato for canning. Processing tomatoes are commonly sold in 25 lb bulk cases, which each yield about 6-7 quarts of sauce each. So, decide how many quart jars you want to fill before purchasing your tomatoes.

selecting ripe plum tomatoes for tomato sauce canning
Aunt Andrea and Aunt Marie find a fine batch of tomatoes!

Sort
Since one rotten tomato can spoil the batch, you need to inspect each one individually. If you are not going to actually can on the day you pick up your tomatoes, take them out of the box and lay them to air out. This way, you can find and remove any rotting ones before they spoil the ones around them. Sometimes the tomatoes can use an extra day or two more to fully ripen, so you can leave them out until they seem ready.

sorting plum tomatoes for tomato sauce canning

Wash
When you’re ready start, go through all the tomatoes again and toss any rotten ones. Look for bruises and blemishes, and cut out any bad spots. Smell any questionable ones to see if they are sour. Then, fill a large container with water and place all the remaining tomatoes inside to rinse.

washing and sorting plum tomatoes before canning

Boil
Next, take your large pot and fill it with four to five inches of water. It does not need to be filled to the top. Bring the water to a boil, fill the pot with tomatoes, and cover. Steam each batch until they look cooked and are soft. Some will start to split when they are done.

boiling the plum tomatoes before canning

Crush
Using a slotted spoon, scoop the cooked tomatoes and transfer them to your strainer to drain. Prick each one to get out excess water. Place a large bucket or container underneath the grinder to catch all the juice. Then, run the tomatoes through your grinder to separate the pulp and juice from skin and seeds. When you’re done, run the skin and seeds through one more time. This helps to thicken up the finished product. If you have a compost area, you can toss the remaining waste right in.

running sauce tomatoes through an electric grinder before canning

Jar
To prep your jars, spread them out on a large flat surface. I like to put 3-4 fresh basil leaves in each one for flavor. Using a funnel, fill each jar with your crushed tomatoes to within about 1/4 inch of the top. Make sure to wipe any excess off the rim of the jar to ensure a proper seal. Put a seal lid on each jar and loosely screw a ring on. Don’t make it too tight, just tight enough to keep the contents of the jar from spilling.

filling glass jars with crushed tomatoes for canning

Seal
Put enough water in a pot to just cover the lids of your jars, and bring it to a boil. Place jars in the water and boil for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the jars with tongs or a jar gripper and lay them out to cool. You should hear a series of “plinks” as they beging to cool and the tops depress, forming the seal. Check all of your jars as they cool to make sure the tops have depressed. Any that don’t seal properly should be refrigerated and used within a day or two.

boiling tomato sauce cans to seal them during canning process

Finally, thought it’s torture to wait, put all the jars aside for about 2 weeks and check the lids daily to make sure they are ok. If none burst after a couple of weeks, your seals should be safe and adequate and you can feel free to enjoy!

freshly canned plum tomatoes

Coming up during tomato week…
We’ll pop open a few jars, make a basic pasta sauce and try out one of my all time favorite splurges!