Tomato sauce doesn’t have to come from a jar with a gondola on the label. For those of us who weren’t fortunate enough to have an Italian grandmother, here’s how to make a basic tomato sauce.
My family was one of those lacking a Nonna. And since my father was a strict meat and potatoes man it wasn’t an issue if the spaghetti sauce wasn’t homemade. My first husband did have a Nonna. And he could (and still does) make an amazing meat sauce.
Rick prefers to make a fresh sauce of diced tomatoes and sauteed onions and peppers. It’s great over pasta, but a little too thin for pizza. My sauce is loaded with onions, carrots and celery and simply seasoned for loads of flavor. With a basic sauce it’s a simple matter to add a few additional spices or other ingredients to suit the type of cuisine you plan to serve.
When tomatoes are in season, use them. Use any kind you have available. We like romas and cherry tomatoes (especially the heirloom varieties) a lot. Cut the tomatoes into halves or quarters and de-seed them. Toss them with a small amount of olive oil, salt and maybe some oregano and thyme, then roast them in a 400° oven until they’re cooked through. Start checking at 20 minutes. If the skins slip off easily, remove them. Otherwise dice the tomatoes when they’ve cooled.
In the winter your options are smaller, but canned tomatoes are usually better than hot house varieties. You can purchase whole peeled tomatoes (our preference) or diced tomatoes. Look for BPA free cans if you can find them or purchase tomatoes in a jar or box (again if you can find them).
No matter whether fresh or canned, two pounds of tomatoes will make almost two quarts of sauce. More than enough for a few meals or pizzas for two people. In addition to ladeling over noodles, the sauce can be used as a braising liquid for more veggies, seafood or meat depending on your fancy.
Best of all, a basic tomato sauce requires very little attention once the ingredients are added to the pot, just the occasional stir and adjustment to the heat. If you make your sauce in the slow cooker, it will require even less attention.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could make a large batch and can or freeze your tomato sauce for future use. We make small batches and freeze it in jars we’ve saved for storage. When freezing make sure to leave plenty of headspace to allow for expansion in the freezer. It’s no fun cleaning up busted jars of frozen tomato sauce, trust me.
Canning has it’s own challenges. In general, plain tomato sauce can be processed in a water bath, but if you decide to make a meat sauce a pressure canner is required. See this website for more information. It’s much simpler for us to make a double batch and freeze the excess.
- 2 pounds, more or less, whole peeled tomatoes (or roasted tomatoes as described in the text)
- 1 small can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 or 2 carrots, diced
- 1 or 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced fine
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
- (Any other seasonings that you like)
- (Water or vegetable broth as needed)
- olive oil for sauteing
- balsamic vinegar for finishing
- In a large dutch oven, saute the onions, carrots and celery in a little olive oil.
- When the onions begin to soften and change color, drain the liquid from the tomatoes into the pot. Then chop the remaining tomatoes into small pieces. Kitchen scissors work really well for this. (If using roasted tomatoes add enough water or vegetable broth to just cover the vegetables)
- Add the garlic, bay leaves, oregano, any other seasoning you'd like plus salt and pepper.
- Reduce the heat to very low and allow to simmer away...the longer the better.
- Add more liquid if needed and reduce the heat some more because if you have to add more liquid it's probably too high.
- When the sauce is the way you like it, remove the bay leaves and use a stick blender to puree the sauce.
- Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to add a finishing touch.
Now that your sauce is ready, how will you serve it?