Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Garden Fresh Tomato Sauce

When I traveled to Switzerland, I spent a day at the Solbad Spa on the outskirts of Bern.  As you can imagine, it was a grueling morning.  Basking in the sun, swimming in a salt-water outdoor pool beneath jets and waterfalls.  Solbad also had an indoor thermal spa, where you moved from a series of hot to cold-water baths.  I'm pretty sure I didn't complete it in the right order, as the signs were in German, but I had a great time nonetheless.  I was reminded of this experience when I gave a large bowl of tomatoes the spa treatment in my kitchen yesterday, moving them from boiling to shocking cold water to make garden fresh tomato sauce.  And I'm happy to say the luxury treatment paid off. 

My husband has been collecting the Roma tomatoes in our pots for weeks now.  They suddenly accumulated into a large pile on my kitchen counter, thirty-eight to be exact.  He guarded those pots, warding off chipmunks and squirrels, and created fences to enclose the vines.  His heart broke a little every time he found a half eaten beauty lying on the ground, vowing to pick them earlier next time before they completely ripened.  He worked so hard to grow them; I vowed to work just as hard to make something magic out of them.  A fresh homemade tomato sauce we could enjoy together.  A summer send off of sorts, a last hurrah.

This would be the real deal.  A slightly labor intensive process of boiling the tomatoes, shocking them in an ice bath, and peeling and pushing away their skins.  I would squeeze out the seeds, puree the flesh, and simmer them in garlic, onions, and olive oil.  Worth the effort? You bet.  Did I use up every large bowl in the kitchen, splatter tomato carnage on the walls, and have a shirt covered in red juice? You bet.  If you have an apron, now might be a good time to pull it out.  I've outlined the five steps below to keep the process moving along smoothly for you, but you might as well embrace the mess that will ensue.

My Italian tomato gardener husband had strict requirements for this sauce.  There would be no such nonsense of carrots, peppers, or celery.  No wine, no oregano, and certainly no Italian seasoning blend.  This was to be a tomato sauce in the purist sense.  I had to agree with him on this one.  I let the tomatoes speak for themselves, cooking them for a short period of time, keeping the sauce fresh and light.  The result was a slightly garlicky chunky red sauce, sprinkled with flecks of onion and a hint of salt to balance it all out.  Let me tell you, a sauce this good cannot be bought.  It just doesn't exist in a store.  It's the stuff Italian grandmother's pump out without batting an eye.

I'd like to think my husband's grandmother would be proud of this accomplishment: my first real deal tomato sauce.  She was the one who recently taught me how to make homemade cavatelli pasta.  Although she speaks very little English, her expression is always telling, with a soft smile breaking at the corners of her mouth.  She will often call me 'bella' whenever I see her, offering up a warm embrace.  She sits at the head of the dinner table; a sweater draped over her shoulders, usually enjoying a glass of wine that taints her cheeks a rosy red.  Somewhere in Flumeri, Italy back home during her summer vacation, she might be making her own tomato sauce right about now.  I won't tell her I splurged on homemade pasta in the store this time around.  Something tells me she would understand.  Besides, I have to go clean up the tomato wreckage, although I'd much rather be at that spa in Switzerland.

~Garden Fresh Tomato Sauce Recipe~

approximately 4 1/2 lbs Roma tomatoes 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, diced very finely
1/4 tsp sea salt
few grinds from pepper mill

Step 1:
You'll need 3 bowls.  Fill the first with ice and water.  The second will be for the tomato peels, and the third for the whole peeled tomatoes.  Set them up in this order, making an assembly line. 

Step 2:  
Bring a large pot of water up to a boil.  Drop the tomatoes in batches for just a minute or two.  As soon as the skin splits, remove with a slotted spoon and submerge into the ice bath.  Once cool enough to handle, peel the skins away.  Place the skins in your second bowl, and the peeled whole tomatoes in the third.  Keep going with this process until you've worked your way through your batch of tomatoes.

Step 3: 
Cut the peeled Roma tomatoes in half, lengthwise.  Remove the tough white part near the stem.  Squeeze and remove the seeds into a discarding bowl, holding onto the fleshy interior and exterior.  It's OK if some of the juices travel along with it to the seed free tomato bowl.  Don't worry too much if there are still a few seeds, as long as you have removed the majority, things will be fine.

Step 4:
At this point, you will have a bowl of seed free tomatoes and accumulated juices.  Transfer this mixture, including the juices to the food processor.   Give it a whirl for a few seconds until you have a tomato puree. 

Step 5:
In a saucepan, add olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic, cooking for just a few minutes until slightly brown, taking care not to burn the garlic.  Add the onion and saute for a few minutes until it is translucent.  Add in the tomato puree.  Bring up to a slight bubble, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and let it cook for 45 minutes.  Add in the salt and pepper.  Serve over your favorite pasta.  Makes 4 cups.  I stored my batch in a mason jar in the refrigerator until I was ready to use it.  

You may be able to get your hands on a large bin of tomatoes fairly inexpensively this time of year from a farm or farmers' market.  Don't worry if they look like a bunch of stragglers.  This is the perfect use for them.  Although I've only tried making this with Roma tomatoes, I would imagine many other varieties would work just as well.


Sue/the view from great island said...

Bellisimo! I love that you kept it plain and simple. I am now craving this. I have lots of heirloom tomatoes on my counter, but I'm not sure if they would work. I guess I won't know until I try. Great post.

Stephanie said...

Thanks Sue! I wouldn't see why not. I've never tried it, but I don't think you could go wrong. If you give it a try, let me know how it turns out :)

Anonymous said...

I am so jealous! Beautiful sauce. Tomatoes taste so delicious when you don't get in the way of them-- I like how both you and your husband wanted to keep the flavors really simple and pure. Always worth the effort. :)

kyleen said...

I've never tried making my own tomato sauce before, but this is inspiring. How many times have I grabbed a jar of already-made sauce, when I could be using the homemade version instead? My mom planted tomatoes in our garden this year, so we have a lot beefsteaks sitting on the counter right now. This would be a great way to use them up.

Stephanie said...

Thanks girls! This was my first time trying, and I'm glad it turned out well so I could share. It's been on my to do list forever ;)