Monday, August 28, 2006

Recipe - Perfect Tomato sauce just like Nonna used to make

Tara and I hit the St. Jacobs farmers market on Saturday after taking care of the horses. We were kinda late (10:30ish) so a lot of the good veggies were picked over, but we still scored some goods: sweet leeks, massive shallots, beautiful corn (peaches and cream), a nice sugar baby, onions, and garlic. Oh ya – and half a bushel of roma tomatoes. Perfect for a batch of tomato (marinara) sauce.

If you have never had homemade tomato sauce you have missed out on one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s nothing like you buy in the stores – that stuff can be sickly sweet or an unnatural colour of red and it often tastes nothing like tomatoes. Making homemade sauce is a day long event but even if you got one meal out of it, it would be worth it.

OK, so find a day where you are going to be around the house and then go pick up the following at your local farmers market / grocery store:
  • ½ bushel Roma Tomatoes
  • ½ cup Olive Oil
  • 4 medium Cooking Onions
  • 1 large Head of Garlic
  • 1 glass White Wine
  • ¼ cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 handfuls of Basil
  • ¼ cup Savory
  • Salt + pepper
  • 1-2 Carrots, shredded (if tomatoes aren’t quite ripe)

Step 1: Peel and Seed Tomatoes
This is the most intensive step of the whole thing. Once you finish this step, the rest is easy.
a. Dump the tomatoes in a sink full of water and rinse off the big clumps of dirt. Pick out any under ripe ones (don’t worry about skin blemishes – the skin is coming off).
b. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water
c. In batches of 5 or 6 tomatoes, cut a small x at one end of the tomatoes and throw them into the water for about 30 seconds. Then take them out and throw them into the cold water until you can handle them. Peel off the skin. (Instead of a small X, you make a circumventive cut around the tomato and twist off the skin)
d. Cut the tomatoes in half and squish (yes, the correct term) the guts of the tomatoes out into a bowl. Throw the tomato ‘shells’ in the stock pot you’ll use to cook the sauce.
e. Repeat until you are done all tomatoes.
f. Reserve about 1 C of the tomato gut juice with the seeds strained out.
This took me almost 2 hours to process the half bushel. At the end the counter was a mess, and my back and arms were sore. But the hard part was over.

Step 2: Aromatics!!
If my Nonna was around, she’d scold me for using both onions and garlic. Italians use one or the other - not both. But Nonna’s not and I like both, so both go in!
a. Dice up the onions
b. Dice up the garlic
c. Chop up the savory
d. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and throw the onions, garlic and savory into it. Sweat it for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
e. Dump the wine into the pot, stir and dump the mixture over the tomatoes

Step 3: Cook – long and slow
Now just let the magic of the heat do the rest.
a. Heat the tomatoes over medium heat until you hear the wine boiling. You’ll have to get your ear right up to the pot.
b. Dump the tomato gut juice into the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low.
c. Stir the pot until the liquid in the bottom is boiling. Turn the heat down low so the mixture is barely boiling. Stir the pot every 5 minutes or so for the first 30 minutes and then once every 30 minutes. The tomatoes will cook down.
d. After the mixture has been cooking for 3 hours or so, dump the basil and the balsamic vinegar in. (Yes, I know we are trying to reduce the acidity, but the vinegar adds a depth the sauce. Its acidity will be cooked off)
e. Cook for another hour or so and then take a taste. Add salt and pepper as needed. If the sauce isn’t sweetening up, add a shredded carrot or two.
f. Cook for another 3-6 hours. At this point the sauce should taste like wonderful wonderful tomatoes.

Step 4: Blend, Cool, Bag
I like smooth sauce. If you don’t, skip the blending part.
a. With an immersion blender, blend the sauce until it is the smoothness you like. If you want to use a real blender BE CAREFUL and cover the top with a couple of old tea towels (otherwise you’ll be burnt and you’ll have a big mess to clean).
b. Take the sauce off the heat and put the pot in the sink. Fill the sink with cold water and stir the sauce to cool it off.
c. Once it is cooled, put it in bags / containers and freeze the part you can’t use in the next few days.

That it’s! This sauce is good over pasta (hmmm – spaghetti and meatballs) or in pasta (hmmm – lasagna). It’s good as a pizza sauce as well. I’m going to use my over stuffed ravioli I think. Homemade if I have time next weekend…

We’ve got a bunch of vegetarian family, friends and co-workers who might be eating this, so I omitted a nice ingredient – lardoons. If you want, through in ¾ cup pancetta or bacon in step 2d and heat until it is cooked– it’ll add another component to the sauce…

Any questions? Leave them in the comments section.

Confession time – I don’t have a Nonna [with a last name like Siemens, that shouldn’t surprise you]. But if I did, she’d make sauce just like this (at least I think she would). I don’t know if my Grandmas made tomato sauce - anyone know?

1 comment:

Snides said...

Richard, it looks lovely, but I was exhausted just reading about the process. It looks like you've got lots to freeze for later though.

Good one about the Nonna...maybe you should think about writing fiction.