Summer’s Best: Fresh Tomato Sauce
We made this tomato sauce before this blog was even born, back when we just sent each other recipes all the time and went “oooh, let’s make that one. And a scone, to save for later.”
This sauce freezes beautifully – I think I froze my portions in ice cube trays and took out a cube or two at a time. In the middle of December, it tasted like summer in my apartment, which was no small feat in Connecticut. Of course, it didn’t taste like this summer, the summer of brutal heat and derecho-caused electricity problems (we survived mostly unscathed).
Anyway, I made it again and, this time, I cheated and used my immersion blender to make it extra smooth. Honestly, I like very smooth tomato sauce, so I figured it was worth it, but if you’re a purist, you won’t want to go that route. I don’t know for sure, but it’s a distinct possibility that Em’s a purist on this one. The fact that I can’t remember for sure is reason number 8,672 that I’m overjoyed I get to go up to Connecticut and cook with Em later this month!
Finally, a note on the color – you’ll only get perfect red tomato sauce if you start with perfect, bright red tomatoes. But not all ripe, tasty tomatoes are as red as the apple the evil queen gave Snow White. If your sauce is more orange than red, it will still be delicious.
I made a nice, if too small batch with 3 lbs of tomatoes instead of 4, and the only thing I adjusted was the olive oil, which I decreased by a tablespoon.
Expect to get about 3 to 4 cups of sauce from this.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 4 lbs tomatoes (whatever variety you prefer, so long as they’re ripe)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Small onion (preferably yellow)
- 3 to 4 small to medium cloves of garlic
- 1/2 medium carrot, peeled
- 1/2 stalk of celery
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Bay leaf (optional ingredient – Amanda-approved, not Emily-approved)
- Fresh basil (optional)
First, peel those tomatoes. Deb’s trick for this is so effective that even if the sauce were gross, I would be glad we made this sauce just to learn this trick. Bring a medium or large pot of water to boil. You need enough water that the tomatoes can each be submerged. Prepare a large bowl with ice water to use as the ice water bath. Using a paring knife, cut an X at the bottom of each tomato. It should be small enough that it looks like just a small X on the bottom of the tomato, not a scratchy cross that’s taking over one side of the tomato. Yes, that simile is awful, but I am tired, bear with me, please. Drop the tomatoes in the boiling water for 20 – 30 seconds. Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and place in the ice water bath. After they’ve bathed, so to speak, for about a minute, remove the tomatoes from the ice water. Starting with the X on the bottom, peel off the skin. It should be easy at this point, but if not, repeat the process, tossing them in the boiling water for about 10 – 15 seconds and then shocking in the ice water again. If you want a tasty treat, fry up the skins in a little olive oil. We thought this was delicious, if I recall correctly.
Quarter your tomatoes (or halve them if you’re using smaller tomatoes). Remove the seeds – the easiest method is to get a small bowl and a strainer and squeeze the tomatoes over the strainer, letting the juice fall into the bowl, until all the seeds have gone bye-bye. Keep the juice, as you may want to add it after the sauce has cooked if you find it’s getting too thick.
You can roughly chop your tomatoes at this point or wait until they go into the pot and mash them with a potato masher.
Prepare your onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. Finely chop the onion and mince the other three vegetables. Another alternative is to process everything in the food processor until it forms a paste. Honestly, I can’t remember what we did the first time, but I used the latter method this last time and enjoyed the results. Although I was shocked that my eyes watered simply from having an onion in the food processor when I didn’t do more than quarter it myself. The human body is strange.
Over medium heat, heat the olive oil in a large pot with a decently thick bottom (it doesn’t need to be thick-bottomed, but no wimpy, paper thin pot bottoms, please). Cook all of the vegetables except the tomatoes in the olive oil for about ten minutes, or until they take on some color and have made your kitchen smell like foodie heaven. Add the tomatoes and stir. Bring the mixture to a simmer and lower the heat to medium-low, keeping the sauce bubbling gently but not boiling or popping. Throw in the bay leaf, if using.
Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally and/or mashing the tomatoes with a potato masher as necessary. Stir more frequently toward the end. Deb says you could take this sauce off the stove after 30 minutes but that it won’t be as delicious, and she’s (unsurprisingly) right. 45 minutes of cooking this sauce is so preferable I don’t think you should have the option of taking it off the stove after only 30 minutes.
Add the reserved tomato juice if your sauce is getting too thick for your liking. Remove the bay leaf, if you used one. If desired, use an immersion blender to make the sauce smoother. Finally, add in the salt and add more seasonings to taste.
Serve with slivers of the fresh basil, if using.
Biggest and quickest lesson of marriage: my husband and I have different ideas of what constitutes a serving of food. This photo is evidence of that fact.