Monday, September 5, 2011

Tomato Patch: Ginny's thick & quick tomato sauce

Ready to make sauce
My tomato sauces for years were, well, unremarkable.  To be honest, sometimes I thought they were more like tomato juice than sauce.  I read magazine and newspaper articles and answers to Frequently Asked Questions in my quest for recipes and how-to-do-it tips that would give me a reasonable amount of thick sauce in a reasonable amount of time.

I blanched and peeled and cooked.  I put raw tomatoes in the blender and then tried to separate thick from thin.  I cooked tomatoes and put them through our food mill and then cooked them some more.  The result usually was a sauce so thin that it barely stained the pasta through which it ran to the plate.  Saucy friends winked and told us how to resolve this dilemma: add a can of store-bought tomato paste to thicken the thin when we used it.

This year, I vowed to “get it right.”  I cooked, milled, cooked, and simmered two batches for more than three hours last month.  One batch yielded three cups and the other four of thin sauce.  I shook my head and said to myself, “They’re still too juicy.  I should have simmered them another hour or two.”

Enough of this culinary futility, I thought.  Five hours of work that yields four cups of thin sauce isn’t reasonable.   The greater bargains in time, effort, and thickness seemed to sit in bottles on shelves of the pasta aisle of our local Giant Food store.

Tomato pieces ready to start simmering
So I surrendered, and when friends visited last weekend, I gave a whole bucket plus a plastic grocery-store bag of paste tomatoes to Ginny B., who said she wanted to make sauce.  A day or so later she called to thank me for the tomatoes.

“How many cups did you get?”  I asked, thinking she might have gotten ten or twelve.

“Twenty-nine,” she replied, “and they’re all in the freezer.”

“Twenty-nine?” I couldn’t believe it.  “Were they juicy like the sauce I make?”

“No, it was thick.”

“What’s your secret?”

Ginny told me how she makes her thick and quick tomato sauce, and I’ve now made three batches.  I have to admit that I’m back in the tomato sauce business again.  I worked on the third batch on Labor Day morning.  Here’s how I did it:

This made the difference
I started with about a half bucket of large paste tomatoes—Big Mamas and Super Marzanos—and a quarter colander of Juliets, a small paste- or Roma-type tomato usually used for snacking.  I washed them, cored them, gouged out the gel and seeds with my thumb, cut off any damaged or otherwise objectionable parts, cut the good stuff into chunks, and filled a six-quart pan nearly to the top.  I brought the tomatoes to slow boil and then simmered them for about 50 minutes.  Then I used a measuring cup to put two-cup batches into our blender and pressed “blend” to break down all the remaining tomato parts.  The measuring cup helped keep things fairly neat and gave me an idea of how much sauce I’d made.

While I was blending the tomatoes, I sautéed an onion and four or five garlic cloves in olive oil in another large pan.  As I finished blending each small batch of tomatoes, I added them to the simmering onion-garlic mix.  When I had all the tomatoes in the second pot, I added some salt and simmered the sauce for another 20 minutes.  Just three or four minutes from the end of the cooking time, I added a handful of thinly sliced basil from our garden.

The sauce was beautiful, thick, and delicious.  It filled three three-cup freezer containers.  I spent about an hour preparing the tomatoes and another hour for the cooking.  Bottom line: I had doubled the amount of thick sauce in less than half the time. 

Beautiful, thick, delicious
All things considered, I think I’ll call this sauce recipe “Ginny’s Thick & Quick Tomato Sauce.”  Thank you, Ginny.  I’ve adapted the procedure from Ginny’s explanation, and if you try to make sauce this way, adapt my outline to your taste and the way you think you want your sauce to taste.

Ginny, for example, doesn’t remove all the seeds from the tomatoes.  She sautés onion and garlic at the beginning and then adds the fresh tomatoes for cooking.  She adds leaves from a couple of sprigs of thyme for additional herbal kick.  She adds fresh basil at the very end, just as she removes turns off the heat.

What tips do you suggest to make this thick-and-quick tomato sauce even better?

Grow It.  Eat It.

3 comments:

  1. Like you, it annoyed me to have to buy store bought tomato paste to make my sauce thicker. I fixed the problem by making my own tomato paste with the plastic fruit "leather" component from the dehydrator using tomato juice that's made from the excess juicier tomatoes, like cherries or beefsteaks. Just scrape into a freezer bag when it reaches paste consistency.

    Another tip. Roast all the vegetables (my spaghetti sauce this time of year includes excess eggplant, summer squash, onions and peppers from the garden - and the family members who say they hate vegetables don't know any better) with the tomatoes in the oven for an hour or so before blending and freezing.

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  2. My mother cooked her sauce all day long. It would fill the whole house with that wonderful smell! The thick sauce is all about reducing the liquid. That can be done quickly by sauteing at a high temp or it can be done slowly by cooking at a lower temp all day on the stove.

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  3. My method is more time-consuming, but has no seeds. I clean and core the tomatoes, removing spots and damaged pieces. Put the quartered tomatoes into the blender to blend or puree. Next I run the juice through the food mill to remove seeds and skin. Then I simmer it, adding more as I process it. Simmering requires about 1-2 hours after adding the last batch and bringing it to a boil. Since I water-bath can rather than freeze, I don’t add anything (except occasionally seasoning according to approved recipes in the “Easy to Preserve” book). There are no seeds and the sauce is usually pretty thick. Of course, you can simmer it longer until it reaches desired thickness.

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