Rustic Homemade Tomato Sauce

12 Aug

When I travel, one of my favorite activities is to take a cooking class. I prefer smaller cooking schools, in someone’s home, if possible. Years ago, I took one in Tuscany, in which I learned to make pasta with a fresh tomato sauce. Ironically the Italian nonna used canned tomatoes and an immersion blender – not exactly centuries old tradition.

I never made pasta at home – storebought will do just fine for me – but I have made sauce many times. And with summer’s tomatoes at their peak right now, this is the time that you, yes you, should make sauce too.

Here is the secret: you cannot screw this up. It’s not a recipe as much as a methodology. I go for the least fuss possible, with zero expectation that it will be perfect. In fact, it will come out different every time. it’s sweeter and sharper than jarred sauce, but it’s great on pasta.

You can start with whatever tomatoes you like. Really. I got these heirlooms from my farm, but the classic sauce tomato would be a plum tomato. I’ve even done it with cherry tomatoes just to save them from certain rot. In truth, you can use canned instead if you like:

An assortment of knobbly heirlooms

An assortment of knobbly heirlooms

I never bother skinning mine – I don’t mind a little bit of skin in the finished sauce. I just chop them up in a haphazard way into moderately small pieces. Look how amazing the heirlooms look diced:

The rainbow coalition of tomatoes

The rainbow coalition of tomatoes

Once they’re ready to go, I heat up my olive oil. I don’t measure it, but I just glug a bunch into a soup pot. What I took away from the lady in Tuscany is that basically, you want to use so much olive oil that you start to think it’s too much.  In New York, I also was able to find the Calabria chilies that they use in Italy. They’re teeny, and they pack a wallop. Use about 2-3 for a soup pot of tomatoes.

This is enough Calabria chilies for your entire life. I've had mine for years, and this is even after I dumped out a giant bag to give away. If you're my friend and you want some, let me know.

This is enough Calabria chilies for your entire life. I’ve had mine for years, and this is even after I dumped out a giant bag to give away. If you’re my friend and you want some, let me know.

I start by heating up some olive oil with a bunch of chopped fresh garlic and the 2-3 chiles. (I used about 5 in this batch, which left me with some pretty spicy sauce.

Infusing the oil

Infusing the oil

Once the garlic just starts to brown, I dump in the sliced tomatoes and stir.

In the pot

In the pot

From here, you just get the thing to a low boil and wait several hours for the tomatoes to break down and become thick sauce. Do not cover it, because you want water to evaporate. They’ll lose a third to a half of their volume. You should stir from time to time so that nothing burns on the bottom, and stir much more often as it gets down to the end. I decided to immersion blend this batch into more of a smooth sauce, but I think I actually prefer it chunky. My three or so pounds of tomatoes cooked down into… 1.75 jars.

Yes, that's really it from all those tomatoes.

Yes, that’s really it from all those tomatoes.

I prefer to freeze mine rather than bother with canning. By the time a big pot of sauce is done, it’s about 2 hours or more from when I started. I’ve had enough of standing over the hot stove in the summertime.

I’ve traditionally frozen my sauce in tupperware of various kinds, or even Ziploc bags. But this year I went the Ball jar route, making sure to use the straight up and down kind meant for freezing (NOT the ones with rounded shoulders), so that as the sauce freezes and expands straight up, it doesn’t crack the jar. There’s a max fill line on the jar, and both jars are filled less than that line. I also avoided any kind of thermal shock by letting the sauce cool down in the jars before freezing.

Sauce is incredibly easy, and it’s so wonderful to pull out a jar of homemade sauce over the winter and know that you made it yourself.

4 Responses to “Rustic Homemade Tomato Sauce”

  1. Sile Convery August 13, 2013 at 12:07 am #

    I love to make sauce too. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Tara Dairman August 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    This looks so good. Thanks for all the insider tips!

  3. kfaye78 August 25, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    What else do you use those chiles for? I might be interested in some, but don’t know what else to use them for and it’s probably not worth mailing. I’m going to tackle making some sauce today. Huzzah!

    • Julie August 26, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

      I don’t know what else to do with them. Any dried chile would probably be good if you find the right spice balance. You must know your chiles from Texas!

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