TBT: Tips for making "quick" tomato sauce

While many of our regular contributors are enjoying summer vacations, let’s go back into the archives for Throw-Back Thursday! Here’s a post from August 24, 2010, written by Bob Nixon.

Tips for making “quick” tomato sauce

I couldn’t believe it. I had picked so many large red tomatoes—Celebrity, Big Beef, Biltmore, Brandywine—that I had filled two colanders and had to stack scores more of tomatoes on the nearby sidewalk. And then I put them into buckets—one large bucket and two smaller ones—to carry to the house.

What was I going to do with all the tomatoes? I picked out a dozen reasonably nice ones for our daughter to take to workmates. The remainders were blemished—several of the Brandywines split after a recent rain—many others showing significant damage from stink-bug sipping.

It was obviously time to pull out our big stainless-steel pot and make tomato sauce to freeze for winter. The recipe I use really isn’t a recipe. It’s “common knowledge”—at least for me—based on experience. Ingredients: ripe tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, basil and thyme, and seasoning.

The big chore is to prepare the tomatoes. I used to blanch them and then skin, core, and remove bad spots. Note the past tense. Last year I just washed and cored them and cut out bad spots, tossed them into a pot, and after they cooked for a while, ran them through a food mill to remove skins and returned them to the pot to continue cooking.

I was ready to do that again this year, but a couple of hours before I started, I stopped at the Home & Garden Information Center to drop off a couple of diseased cucumber leaves for analysis. One of the staffers, Ria Malloy, suggested a quicker way to process the tomatoes. She suggested that after I washed them, I should puree them—skins, seeds, all except core and bad spots—in a blender and then begin cooking.

“I literally wash off the tomatoes, cut out the core and any bad parts, and cut the tomatoes in large chunks over the blender to capture all the juices,” she explained. “And then I cook the tomatoes and other sauce ingredients for about two hours or until the sauce looks and tastes about right before eating or freezing it.”

Hey, I might save an hour’s work with that shortcut—and the sauce might be richer and more nutritious with the minute pieces of skin included. I did it—and admired the bright pink, frothy liquid that turned deep red as it cooked down with the onions and garlic I had sautéed in olive oil, plus some fresh basil and thyme that I added later.

Even though I had squeezed some juice and gel out of the tomatoes as I cleaned them, I ended up with lots of liquid that slowly evaporated as the sauce simmered for more than three hours. I was happy with the medium-thick result that I transferred into plastic freezer cartons, but it would be even thicker if I had simmered it another hour.

Thin tomato sauce isn’t really a problem at Meadow Glenn—because we just add a small can of store-bought tomato sauce or paste to thicken it when we heat it in winter. Ria’s sauce is even thinner, but that doesn’t worry her a bit. “I cook pasta in the thin sauce rather than in a pot of water,” she explained. “The pasta soaks up the extra liquid and ends up exceptionally tasty. Actually, extra liquid is good when you’re making lasagna with no-boil, ready-to-bake noodles.”

Now that the Tomato Sauce 2010 is in our freezer, I’ve just learned something on the Internet that may save me additional time when I make sauce next year: cook the tomatoes about 5 minutes after they come from the blender, and then let them cool for a half hour. The solids will float to the top, and the liquid and most of the seeds will remain on the bottom. Skim off the solids—or remove the liquid with a baster—and proceed with cooking your sauce.

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