At the Ohio Ecological Food & Farming Association conference last spring, I attended a session on home canning and food preserving. The speaker shared a simple three-step technique for making tomato sauce, and it struck me as a truly genius recipe for homemade tomato sauce.
Here’s the deal: First, puree whole tomatoes in a blender. Second, run the puree through a food mill to extract the peels and seeds. Third, let this sit overnight to separate some of the liquid before cooking it into sauce.
If you’ve made homemade tomato sauce before, whether you can it in jars or freeze it to enjoy during winter, you know that it’s kind of a pain in the neck. A rewarding one, to be sure — it’s extremely satisfying to see those jars full of deliciousness at the end of the process. Peeling tomatoes is a pain, even if you use a speedier technique like blanching them to slip off their skins. You end up with a lot of waste, because it’s hard to extract every last bit of tomato flesh from those skins. And because the raw tomato mixture is so liquid, it takes a longer time to reduce it to sauce consistency.
This method beats those problems: Pureeing then milling the tomatoes yields every last bit of pulp. (From about 3/4 bushel of tomatoes, I ended up with just 4 cups of seeds/skins.) It’s much easier to mill tomato puree than whole raw tomatoes. Letting the tomato puree sit overnight allows some of the clear tomato broth to settle out so you can skim it off. (Reserve this tomato broth — it’s great for mixing Bloody Marys, cooking rice or making soup.) That step means you start with a more concentrated puree that requires less cooking time to reduce to sauce.
What follows is not so much a recipe for homemade tomato sauce, but more of a technique. Adapt it for a larger or smaller quantity of tomatoes. Tinker with the seasonings as you like. (I’m going to try another batch of homemade tomato sauce with yellow tomatoes and spices, based on this recipe for Spiced Sun Gold Tomato Sauce).
One last tip: Buy “canners” or “uglies” — blemished, overripe or bruised tomatoes — at your farmers’ market. At my market, canners were $1 per pound; I made 7 pints of sauce for $6.
classic Italian tomato sauce
(makes 6–7 pint jars)
You can begin with any quantity of tomatoes and adjust the seasonings as you go. Wash and quarter about 1 bushel ripe red tomatoes. Working in batches, puree the tomatoes in a blender. Transfer the puree to a food mill and, working over a very large bowl, process to remove seeds and skins. When you've processed all the tomatoes, re-process the seeds and skins to extract the maximum amount of pulp. Cover the bowl(s) and refrigerate overnight. From 1 bushel of tomatoes, you may have about 28 cups of liquid.
The next day, skim off all the pulp and some of the juice, leaving about 4 cups of clear liquid behind. (Transfer this tomato broth to a container and freeze for later use.) In a large pot (or 2 medium ones), heat the tomato puree over high heat until boiling; reduce heat and simmer (the mixture should bubble gently) until thickened and reduced by about 1/3, about 90 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon sugar (or to taste), 1 tablespoon kosher salt (or to taste) and 1 tablespoon dried Italian herb blend (or to taste).
Meanwhile, heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large skillet. Add 1 large onion, minced, and 1 head garlic, minced; season with a generous pinch of salt. Sauté until the vegetables are very soft and translucent but not brown, about 8 minutes. Stir the mixture into the tomato sauce. Continue cooking for 20 minutes blend flavors. Taste and adjust seasonings.
At this point, you can either cool the sauce to portion into freezer-safe jars or bags for freezing, or ladle it into pint or quart jars and process according to instructions at FreshPreserving.com.