Making tomato sauce is a little labor intensive, but the real reason I haven’t done it in years is that it’s just not economical.
No matter how good the sauce comes out, it takes a huge volume of tomatoes to make a respectable amount of sauce.
Even mediocre fresh tomatoes tend to be pretty expensive, and good fresh tomatoes are really, really expensive if you buy them in quantity.
Maybe you’ve got a great big garden, but the odds are you don’t have enough tomatoes to make sauce.
If you do have that quantity of tomatoes to spare, you’re living the good life. That’s why, if you ever get a good deal on a big box of tomatoes, you should pounce.
Because these tomatoes weren’t great, but let me tell you, they made a damn good sauce. Most of them had huge, ugly bruises; a couple were starting to turn fuzzy; and several felt too hard when I cut into them.
But once I chopped them up and cooked them down, some sort of magic happened. They tasted like the most tomato-ey tomatoes you’ve ever had.
And that’s the reward for spending a rainy afternoon chopping tomatoes and making the house smell delicious – the best sauce you’ve ever had.
There are two keys to making sauce (besides having lots of tomatoes): peeling them, and seeding them. Neither of these things is hard to do.
But, they can take a little time if you are doing them a lot. It helps to crank up the music, or bring a friend if you can.
Peeling tomatoes is actually a neat trick, if you’ve never done it en mass before. The secret is blanching: dipping the tomatoes in hot water long enough to release the skins.
First, get yourself set up with a pan of boiling water, deep enough for a tomato, and a bowl of ice water.
Then just cut a small, shallow ‘x’ in each one with a serrated knife, dunk them one at a time in boiling water and let them sit just until the skin starts to pull away – about a minute.
Then, move them quickly to the ice water, and let them sit until you can handle them. The skin will just slide off: magic!
Seeding is similarly easy: slice the tomato in half along its equator, and then squeeze each half over a bowl until the seeds and pulp come out.
(Did I mention it helps to get meaty tomatoes, the kind that are more flesh than juice? No surprise, but it helps!) You don’t have to be a perfectionist, either.
A few seeds in your sauce won’t hurt you. Once the seeds are out, just coarsely chop the flesh. (When you’re done, you can strain the seeds out and save the tomato juice, which you can drink or use in place of stock; it’s like a bonus.)
Then, you get cooking. There are lots of variations on tomato sauce, and you can get as creative as you want.
My rendition was, I feel, pretty classic: I sauted an onion and a few cloves of garlic in olive oil, until they were just starting to brown, then added the tomatoes, along with some basil, oregano, salt, and pepper.
I let it simmer for about an hour and a half, until most of the liquid cooked off, and was left with a nice chunky, flavorful sauce.
The best part was that I served the sauce over homemade gnocchi – but that’s a story for another day. The moral here is that homemade tomato sauce is amazing.
And if you get a good deal on a couple pounds of less-than-perfect tomatoes, you should take it!