Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tomato Sauce Machine

I have become a tomato sauce-making machine.  A sauce-bot.  A robo-Italian grandma.  What else is there to do, faced with this?

Every time I see a fruit fly on one, my psyche jerks a bit. I am not to let even one go to waste.

So, in the freezer I now have enough sauce for 7 pounds of pasta.

It wasn't easy to find a sauce recipe suitable for using fresh tomatoes, and heirloom varieties at that.  Every recipe out there either assumes I either have acreage of paste tomato plants all ripening at once, or that I just robbed an Italian grocer and desperately need to destroy the cans of San Marzano so I can plead innocent should someone open my pantry.  Believe me, I'd love to enjoy each one of these lovelies raw, sliced, salted, piled on white bread with mayo and pepper, but there comes a time of necessary surrender. 

At that crucial time when your counterful of summer tomatoes are so ripe that they simply won't last another day, when the fruit flies are poised to devour your precious jewels overnight, multiply in numbers to the hundreds of billions, organize into a buzzing human form, and kick you out of your own kitchen, sieze control of the situation.  Make sauce.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
adapted from Cooks Illustrated

This sauce may need to simmer for as long as 90 minutes, especially if you have a lot of large, juicy varieties with lots of seeds and juice.  If Lynne Rossetto Kasper, of the esteemed Splendid Table radio program, says not to seed, I will not seed.  And truly, the sauce is fantastic.  It changes with each batch, based on the mix of tomatoes used.  Some batches are brick-red and deeply savory, others brighter, both in taste and in color.  One batch, made almost entirely of green zebra tomatoes, turned out to be positively zingy and almost spicy.  Its color, though, was seriously blah. Can't win it all.
Six tablespoons of oil looks like a lot in the pan.  However, it really adds body and richness to this simple sauce.

8 cloves garlic
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds ripe seasonal tomatoes, any variety large enough to peel and chop
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Sugar, if necessary

Fill a saucepan large enough to hold your largest tomato 2/3 full with water and set it over high heat to boil.  Peel and chop the garlic.  Core the tomatoes, flip them over, and lightly slice an X in their bottoms.  This will make peeling them a breeze.

When the water boils, add a few tomatoes to the pot, making sure they are covered with boiling water.  Boil for 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon to a plate or cutting board.  Repeat with each tomato.

Peel and discard the skin from each tomato, then roughly chop the flesh into 3/4" chunks.  Reserve the seeds and any juice exuded.

Put the oil in a nonreactive, straight-sided, 10" skillet, add the chopped garlic, and place the pan on medium heat.  Cook until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the chopped tomatoes with their juice, the salt, and bring to a rapid simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have collapsed and sauce is thick and chunky.  Depending on the tomatoes, this can take anywhere from 30-90 minutes.

When the sauce has reached desired consistency, taste and adjust the seasonings, adding a pinch or two of sugar if the sauce tastes very acidic.  Use immediately, or freeze for later use.  If desired at time of use, add a bit of water from the cooking pasta to thin the sauce.

Makes about 4 cups, enough for 2 pounds of pasta.  
Frozen sauce will keep for months; refrigerated sauce will last about 4 days.

(To freeze, cool the sauce completely and spoon into a quart-sized freezer bag.  Seal, removing as much air as possible, and lay flat in the freezer until frozen solid.  Thaw under running water, or remove the sauce from the bag and microwave or heat on the stovetop until hot.)

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Diego says:
If the sun's too hot, stick out your tongue and find a place in the shade.

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