Tomato Sauce is for Lovers

August 12, 2009

tomatoes“I’m trying to decide whether to come home straight home or go by the gym first,” said my husband on the phone as he left the office at 6:30.  “What are you thinking for dinner?”

“I was thinking of making tomato sauce,” I said.

“Then I’ll come straight home,” he decided, as if I had said, “I was thinking of taking a walk” and he wanted to join me.

You see, making tomato sauce involves a lot of standing around in the kitchen.  It’s something we’ve done together since our first summer in California, its when we remember that our lives are wonderful.  Our sauce is never the same twice, the texture runs the gammet from thin and chunky to thick and smooth, spiciness varies  depending on who’s watching the pot and the flavor is generally tomato.

Because is does involve time, we try to make enough for dinner plus an extra jar, which we consume later that week.  During heavy tomato season, we often use last week’s jar of tomato sauce as a base for next week’s jar, and so on until we have unexpected dinner guests and we make a big pot of spaghetti.

Here is our formula for Oakland tomato sauce:

5 medium size red tomatoes (not heirloom) or 12 Roma tomatoes. – Grand Lake Farmers Market, various vendors
(Romas are preferred as they are the meatiest, even though their small size adds more time to skinning.)

To prepare the tomatoes for skinning, remove the green stem and firm spot from the top of the tomato (use a knife).  Then make an incision in the skin the length of the tomato from top to bottom.  The idea is to sever the skin so after it simmers, the skin pulls right off.  Think of unzipping a jacket.

In large pot or stock pot, put about an inch of water.  Bring to a simmer on the stove top. Add the whole tomatoes to the simmering water. Don’t stack tomatoes, if they don’t all fit, just wait for a second round. You may have to turn them after two to three minutes.  Eventually, you’ll see that the skin is loose and can easily be removed with tongs.  Pull the skin off the tomatoes and discard (preferably in the compost).  If you couldn’t fit them all at once, add the remaining tomatoes and repeat.  The skinned tomatoes will begin to “melt” and cook down into the base for your sauce.

Once the tomatoes are skinned, you can use a potato masher to mash the whole tomatoes into mush.  My husband likes to take two knives to the pot and cut them up, but be careful you don’t scratch your pot. (I try not to watch).  It is common, after the tomatoes are completely cooked down (about an hour) to strain out the seeds by pouring the sauce through a sieve into a bowl and returning it to to the pot.  However, we have never found that step necessary, we don’t mind the seeds.

Now you have tomato sauce. It can be thickened by adding tomato paste (often tomato paste is sweet).

Vinegar, lemon juice or red wine balance the sweetness.  We add two to three table spoons of one of these.
Local sources:  Farmers Market for lemons, Trader Joes sells affordable California red wines, anybody got a good source for local vinegar?

Fresh basil, diced or whole, infuse wonderful flavor.  (I use my back porch herbs)

Dried oregano or Italian Seasoning Blend is a sauce staple. (Suggestions for local dried or fresh spices?)

The longer you cook it, the thicker it gets.  I like the consistency after 2 hours, but a light, 1/2 hour sauce is great over diced zuchini and bowtie pasta.

In a seperate skillet, sautee your “accent pieces.”  It’s not a requirement for vegetables, but putting the spices on the hot skillet opens the flavor and more deeply infuses the vegetables.  Sauteeing the meat first is a requirement.

Last night, we sauteed:
1/2 yellow Onion, diced (Happy Boy Farms, Grand Lake Farmers Market)
4 cloves garlic, diced (Happy Boy Farms, Grand Lake Farmers Market)
6 fresh mushrooms, diced, a mix of crimini and white (the only mushroom vendor at the Grand Lake Farmers Market, $4.50/brown paper bag)
3 diced basil leaves (back porch)
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (local suggestions, anyone?)
in 2 tablespoons of olive oil (BigPaw, Grand Lake Farmers Market)

Ground beef, lamb or chicken would have been great (I recomend Prather Ranch from the Farmers Market) but we didn’t have any.

Add your sautteed goodies to the big pot-o-tomatoes and let simmer for 1/2 an hour.

Serve over pasta (the Farmers Market has fresh pasta vendors.  Anyone know a local dry pasta source?)

One day, I’ll make my own noodles, but that might require more than just a romantic evening with the hubby.

Wine can be tough to pair with freshly made tomato sauce because the acidity in the tomatoes is difficult to balance.  If you’ve stewed it good (ie, if you cooked your left over pasta sauce for another hour) then a Tuscan grape like Sangiovese is recommended.  If you’re enjoying it same day, I recommend a light, dry rose.  Here are my picks from my favorite wine source.  We travel to Monterey often, so its “local” for me since its on the way.  However, you can get them at specialty wine shops in the area, or choose a similar, Central Coast substitute at your nearest grocery store.

Ventana Vineyard Due Amici (Sangiovese/Cabernet) Monterey, CA
Ventana Vineyard Dry Rosado (Grenache/Syrah) Monterey, CA

Buon apetito!