August and early September is the ideal time to finally pick those plump tomatoes that you’ve spent all season tending (or eyeing at the supermarket). With a bit more patience and forearm endurance, you can enjoy the actual fruits of your labor for longer by cooking up and jarring a naturally sweet, homemade tomato sauce.
You can use whatever tomatoes you have on hand, but you’ll need a lot of them: Five pounds of tomatoes yields about one quart of sauce. Don’t be afraid to use different types together; Roma, San Marzano and cherry tomatoes are all good options. The redder and juicer the tomato, the better.
The recipe below can and should be adjusted to your taste. Don’t like white onion? Use red instead. Prefer things spicy? Add a heaping handful of red-pepper flakes. Anti-basil? You must be joking — it’s not a pomodoro without copious amounts of the good stuff. If you’re hoping to get your family (or yourself) to eat more vegetables, you could blend a cup of spinach or cauliflower and add that to the pot.
Yield About 2 quarts
1 medium-size, onion (red onions have a stronger and sweeter flavor, while white onions are milder), roughly chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
A few bunches of fresh basil leaves
10 pounds of tomatoes
You will also need a food mill with a fine grater attached, eight pint-size jars and perhaps a sous chef for when you get tired. If you don’t have a food mill, or tons of time, you could throw all the cooked tomatoes into a good food processor and get straight to preserving. But the sauce will be less refined.
Cook down the tomatoes.
1. Thoroughly wash the tomatoes, then cut them in halves or quarters. Be sure to leave out any pieces that look unsavory or off so that you don’t introduce bacteria or mold.
2. On medium heat, toss the tomatoes into the pot, along with the carrots, celery and a few pinches of salt. Stir often. After 10 minutes, add the onion. After another 5 minutes, add a generous handful of basil leaves; add another handful after 25 minutes.
3. The tomatoes are ready for pressing when they’re tender and the mixture is mostly liquid. This will take at least 30 minutes. Don’t rush the process!
Put some elbow grease into it.
1. Take a deep breath and turn on your favorite podcast. You’re going to be here for a while. Mount your food mill on top of a larger bowl or pot, and make sure it’s secure.
2. Using a slotted spoon, add a few heaps of the cooked-down tomatoes to your food mill and get to turning. Every so often, scrape the bottom of the food mill’s grater with a spoon. Regularly stop and turn your food mill counterclockwise to lift the vegetables off the grater, leaving a hole. Using your hands or a fork, press the thicker bits of the mixture between the blade and the grater, and turn.
3. Once that portion has been mashed down, add some more spoonfuls. Repeat until you’ve turned all of the cooked tomatoes. As you near the end, your food mill will be full of chunky bits of tomato skins and basil. You might think you’re done turning, but you’re not! Tag in your quarantine partner if you have to; this is the most crucial part of the sauce-making process. Grating this last bit gives you a thicker, more flavorful sauce. Once the food mill yields little to no more sauce, you’ve finished the hard part. Compost the scraps that remain in your food mill. Cover the sauce and set aside.
Jar up the tomatoey goodness.
1. Sterilize your jars and lids by boiling them for at least 10 minutes. Carefully remove them from the pot and dry them thoroughly. You can also do this step while your tomatoes are cooking, if you have the stove space.
2. Keep the jars in the oven on 150 degree heat until you’re ready to fill them. Both your jars and tomato sauce should still be warm at this stage. If your sauce has cooled, reheat slightly.
3. Add a handful of fresh basil leaves to each jar before spooning in the sauce. Don’t fill to the top: Leave about a quarter-inch of space. Tightly seal the lid and wipe down the jars, before gently lowering each one into a large pot of boiling water. Allow the jars to boil for 45 minutes. You should hear small pops when they’re sealed.
4. Cool the jars in the pot of water overnight. In the morning, remove them from the water and dry thoroughly. Each lid should be slightly concave. Store in a cool, dark place.
5. When you’re ready to eat, crack open the jar and reheat the contents in a sauce pan with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for every pint. If the sauce seems too watery, you can add some tomato paste to thicken. You can also add more onion, garlic, basil or any other ingredients you fancy. Buon appetito!