Tuesday at the Pearl Alley Market, I bought 12 pounds of tomato "seconds," (aka not pretty enough for selling as slicers) half paste tomatoes and half plain old round tomatoes, for the purpose of making tomato sauce. Husband, being the kind man that he is, did the peeling and seeding, and I did the onion dicing and stirring. Making tomato sauce is really easy, although time-consuming. It's also really rewarding. Although, apparently tomato sauce isn't acidic enough for water-process canning, and has to be pressure canned. Have I even told you that a pressure cooker exploded on my mother when I was a child? That was pretty horrifying, and I still haven't worked up the nerve to use a pressure cooker of any sort myself. And it is for this reason that my tomato sauce will go into my trusty freezer. I suppose that means it won't last as long as canned, but we use so much tomato sauce in this household that I could probably put it in the fridge and use it up in the next week.
The only bad thing about making tomato sauce, if it can be called that, is that a lot of tomatoes only make a little bit of tomato sauce - if you cook it down nice and proper, that is. It makes me respect our foremothers who slaved away over hundreds of pounds of tomatoes at a time to make enough tomato sauce to last the year.
This sauce was so good, I might have to buy another 20 pounds or so this weekend and make more.
Basic Tomato Sauce - makes about 4 quarts
10-12 pounds tomatoes - a blend of slicing and pasted tomatoes works well, because the paste tomatoes hold their shape a little bit, making for an interesting texture.
4 medium onions, cut into small dice
2 heads garlic, cloves peeled and roughly chopped
Italian spice blend, or lots of fresh basil - I can't grow anything, and forgot to buy a bag at the market, so it was all dried for me
salt & pepper
2 cups red wine
Parmesan rinds, or rinds of any hard cheese, optional
2 cups pasta water
Okay, so here's what you do: bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut an X on the non-stem end of each tomato. Have read a large bowl of ice water, a cutting board, a sharp serrated knife, a bowl, and a strainer sitting over another bowl. Dip each tomato into the boiling water for no more than 30 seconds, then plunge into the ice water. Peel each tomato. Cut off the stem end, then cut again, horizontally. Squeeze the seeds into the strainer and put the tomato into the waiting bowl. There's no reason to chop the tomatoes as they will cook down. Repeat, ad nauseum, until all tomatoes are skinned and seedless. If, like me, you have sensitive skin, you might want to wear latex gloves for this process. I would have hivey hands if I tried to handle this many tomatoes.
If you were really organized, you would start with the onion, get them sweating, and add the seeded tomatoes directly to your stock pot.
Heat a large stock pot over medium heat and cover the bottom lightly with olive oil. Add the onions and sweat, slowly, for about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and stir. Add about 1 tbsp Italian seasoning, and a little salt and pepper. Continue cooking until the garlic begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with red wine and allow to reduce by half. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Add the juice sitting in the bowl under the strainer. Add the Parmesan rinds. Cook over medium heat forever, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced by 3/4ths and has a nice thick consistency. Remove the Parm rinds. At this point, you can puree the sauce with a stick blender if you so choose, but I like this chunky variety of sauce, so sometimes you get a pasta strand just coated with sauce, and sometimes you get a nice chunk of tomato.
Now, for the pasta water. Pasta water, as you may or may not be aware, is a miracle at doing all sorts of things in the kitchen, the best of which is turning sauce nice and thick, and turning "sauceless" pasta into a nice sauciness (because it contains lots of starch from the pasta). It can also stretch small amounts of cheese out into a nice rich sauce, making for a lower-fat cheesy pasta (click here for an example). So, when your sauce is almost ready, it's time to test it out. Boil some spaghetti according to package directions. When draining, reserve about 3 cups of pasta water. Place 2 cups into the pasta sauce and boil rapidly until it thickens. Toss with your spaghetti. Here's a little trick I like to use with my pasta water: cook the pasta until it's about 1-2 minutes away from being ready, then place it, along with your pasta sauce and one cup of pasta water, in a pan and cook on high heat for 2-3 minutes (the pasta will cook more slowly in the sauce then in plain water), or until the water has evaporated and the pasta is cooked through. I promise it makes everything super delicious.
Top pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a little balsamic if you choose, and eat immediately. Marvel at your skills. Pat yourself on the back, have some red wine! Cheers!