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A batch of sauce is set aside to cool after the addition of the basil. (Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)

Getting sauced: Simple sauce preserves flavors of late summer

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My Italian grandmother would be proud of me. Well, I imagine she would be proud of me if I had an Italian grandmother.

Since my heritage is mostly German with a bit of British Isles thrown in, tomato sauce does not run through my veins. When I set out to make Italian-style tomato sauce from scratch, I had to start with the basics.

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What I learned is that the key to a really good sauce is that well-known acronym, KISS -- Keep It Simple, Stupid. If you start with fresh ripe tomatoes, very little else is needed to enhance their flavor.

For making sauce, you want a firm, fleshy tomato, and the plum or Roma varieties are a good choice. Look for plump, heavy tomatoes that are brightly colored and have a pleasant aroma. They should be firm, but not hard. Avoid blemished or bruised fruit.

My one lone patio plant wasn't likely to yield enough tomatoes for such a saucy undertaking, so I headed for one of our local farmers markets. Most of the producers sell their tomato wares by the pound, so it was easy to get the exact right amount for this recipe. There I found a Roma variety that was large and fleshy with few seeds.

I went home with a big bag of tomatoes, and they sat on the counter for a few days before sauce-making day arrived. The first hurdle, of course, was getting rid of the skins. Recipes for some fresh pasta sauces don't require the tomatoes to be peeled, but because I was making sauce that would be fully cooked, their outer coverings had to go. Instructions and illustrative pictures for the process I used are on the right side of this page.

Once the peeling and chopping were accomplished, it didn't take long until the enticing aroma of garlic and tomatoes was wafting through my kitchen. A bit more simmering and occasional stirring, and I had a lovely sauce to package for the freezer and later consumption.

Keeping It Simple Tomato Sauce

7 pounds ripe Roma tomatoes

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 or 3 large garlic cloves, finely minced

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

1 cup dry red wine

½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

4 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (or 1½ tablespoons dried)

Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. Roughly chop the tomato flesh and transfer to a bowl, capturing as much of the residual juice as possible.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and sauté just until the onion begins to turn translucent, being careful not to scorch the garlic.

Carefully add the tomatoes to the pot. Raise the heat to medium high, bringing the mixture to a steady simmer. Add the salt and crushed red pepper. Continue to cook for about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Add wine and Italian seasoning. Continue to simmer, uncovered, for another 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are broken down and the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the fresh basil. (If using dried basil, add with the Italian seasoning.)

If not serving immediately, let mixture cool before packaging for the freezer.

Makes about 8 servings.

Cook's notes:

* This makes a chunky sauce. If you desire a smoother product, use a stick blender to puree it at the end of cooking or process in batches in a regular blender or food processor.

* The flavors of tomato and basil are a match made in heaven. If at all possible, use fresh basil, as it will impart the best flavor, but if it is overcooked, it can turn bitter, so add at the very end.

* Peeling the tomatoes can be the most time-consuming part of homemade tomato sauce. To make quick work of the skins, try this blanching method:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

With a small knife, cut an X into the bottom of each tomato.

Working in small batches, lower the tomatoes into the boiling water and leave for 30-40 seconds. Remove into a large bowl filled with ice water.

Once cool, the skins can be easily removed with fingers or a small knife.

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Beth Rickers
Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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