Friday, September 24, 2010

Slow-Cooked Tomato Sauce

Here's what Farmer John had for us in Silver Lake this week:

Red chard
Dandelion greens
Mixed Herbs: Thyme, Sage and Sweet Marjoram
Red leaf lettuce
Red tomatoes
Red bell peppers

And here's what Tara brought down from Underwood Family Farms today:

Saticoy melon
Acorn squash
Blue lake beans
Pineapple heirloom tomato
Romaine lettuce
Cherokee heirloom tomato
Yellow pear cherry tomatoes

And Silver Lake Farms provided delicious microgreens: pea shoots (pictured above) and radish greens. Thanks Rachel and Bruce! (I love those lanterns Graham made.)

Don't forgot to bring your re-usable container for the microgreens!

It's late tomato season; and I'm in high gear preserving the flavors of summer to enjoy all winter long. One of my favorite recipes is slow-cooked tomato sauce. I learned this recipe years ago from one of my cooking teachers, Carlo Middione. Over the years, I've made a few small changes, but the recipe is essentially his.

It's a cinch to prepare. Just a little work is involved in getting it started; then it bubbles slowly on your stove-top for three (yes three) hours. But once it's slowly simmering, you only need give it a stir now and then. While it's cooking, you can do some gardening, read a book, watch a movie, just plain slow down...

This recipe makes about a quart of sauce, and it freezes beautifully. I re-use quart-sized plastic yogurt containers to freeze batches of this sauce. But you can use quart-sized glass jars if you prefer. In either case, be sure to leave a little head room at the top, as the sauce will expand a little as it freezes. I prefer freezing to canning, mostly because it's a small batch recipe. However, the pH is a little too high to safely can in a hot water bath canner, so I don't recommend it.

Slow-Cooked Tomato Sauce

3-1/2 lbs fresh ripe whole tomatoes
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
6 oz. (1 small can) tomato paste
2 C dry red wine
1-1/2 t salt
1/4 to 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
6-8 sprigs fresh oregano or 1 T dried oregano
red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Start with the most delicious tomatoes you can find. Delicious tomatoes will make a delicious sauce. I like to use a variety of different tomatoes, mixing up the flavors and colors to get a balance of sweetness, tartness, and acidity.

2. Peel the tomatoes: This is easier than you think. Fill with water a pot big enough to hold your largest tomato and bring the water to a boil. In the meantime, remove the stems and cores of the tomatoes. With a sharp knife, score an X on the bottom of each tomato. Once the water boils, turn the heat down, gently drop one tomato into the water with a slotted spoon and leave it there for 20-30 seconds. Remove the tomato with a slotted spoon. Wait until it's cool enough to handle, then peel off the skin and put the tomato in a large bowl. The skin should come off very easily. If it doesn't, your tomatoes may not be quite ripe. Repeat with remaining tomatoes.

3. When the tomatoes are peeled, chop them coarsely and process them in batches in a food processor until pureed.

4. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and stir to coat with oil. Cook about 1 minute. Add the chopped garlic and continue cooking until the garlic just starts to turn slightly golden.

5. Turn down the heat. Add the pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, and seasonings. Stir to combine. [You can substitute water if you don't want to use wine, though you might want to add 1-2 t sugar as well.]

6. Let the sauce come to a very slow simmer, just barely bubbling. Cook for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be thick and deep red. Allow the sauce to cool before storing in the fridge or packing for the freezer.

I use this sauce as the base for all of my cooked tomato-based pasta sauces as well as last week's stuffed peppers. When I re-heat the sauce, I usually check the seasoning and add more salt, pepper, and/or oregano, if necessary.




  1. Do you have any problems leaving the tomato seeds in the sauce? I always peel my tomatoes as you described, but my recipes require you to remove the seeds from the tomatoes. This is messy and time consuming (maybe I'm not using the right technique?), but the recipes say leaving the tomato seeds in the sauce will make it bitter. Any thoughts?

  2. Shelley says: Thanks for your question. It's a good one. There are chemicals in tomato peels that will make the sauce bitter. However, the seeds do not contain the same chemicals and will not make the sauce bitter. I agree, it's a terrible hassle to seed tomatoes. The good news is that it's not necessary. There is some confusion among recipes (and cooks) about tomato seeds and tomato skins. I've been making this sauce for years; and I've used many varieties of tomatoes, and I've never experienced any bitterness from the seeds. Let me know how your sauce turns out. -Shelley