As we come to the close of another season for fresh tomatoes from the garden, we have found ourselves garnering some patience and making fresh tomato sauce for a variety of pastas. Granted, this takes a bit of time – especially if you are making sauce for just one meal at a time instead of making a large pot and preserving the sauce in mason jars for future use – but it’s worth it.
Sure, it’s not the greatest picture, admittedly, but that aside, this is the basis for a rich, tasty and variable sauce that can make any pasta shine on its own or with whatever you want to add to it.
For enough sauce to add to pasta for about 2-4 people you’ll need: about 8-10 ripe tomatoes (we used a combination of San Marzano and Beefsteak, because that was what had just come in), 1/2 onion (chopped well; we used a red onion in this case), 2 carrots (peeled and well chopped) 3 garlic cloves (peeled, crushed and chopped), about 1 full Tbsp of (preferably chopped, fresh) parsley, oregano and basil, 3/4 Tbsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, 1 tsp grated lemon peel, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 2 Tbsp tomato paste, ground black pepper, 3/4 cup full bodied red wine, 3 Tbsp olive oil and 1 cup water.
The first step is to blanche, peel and de-seed the tomatoes. You do this by boiling water in a large pot or dutch oven. Have a separate large bowl of ice water standing by (i.e. almost fill a bowl with cold water and add a bunch of ice to it). Cut the stem roots out of the tomatoes but cutting a small cone containing the stem out of the top with a serrated knife.
Place all of the de-stemmed tomatoes into the boiling water for about 30 sec – 45 sec, maximum. Remove from water with a large slotted spoon and place immediately into the ice water. The skins should all but fall off.
Remove the skins and cut the tomato into halves (for the Sam Marzano-sized) or quarters (for the larger sizes) and then scrape or squeeze out the pulp and seeds with your fingers.
Cut the now de-seeded tomatoes into smaller pieces – they will be soft and a bit squishy so place them in a separate bowl as you go along to keep them separate from the seeds and pulp you are removing, and set aside.
In a large pot or dutch oven add the olive oil and heat over medium flame. Add the chopped onion, carrot and garlic and toss well in the heated oil until just starting to turn soft – about 1-2 mins.
Add the tomatoes, herbs, salt, red pepper, lemon zest, brown sugar, tomato paste, wine, water, a good grinding of black pepper and stir well. Bring the entire mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to low to maintain just a simmer.
Adding the liquid – the wine and water – is very important. The consistency should be more like soup at the beginning so that the liquid can both break down the tomatoes while it boils off over time.
Partially cover the pot and stir often, simmering for at least an hour, maybe two until the sauce has thickened substantially. It’s important to not have the heat too high (just enough to keep the sauce lightly bubbling) and to stir it often during this stage. You can also add a bit more salt and black pepper after cooking for more than an hour, to bring the seasoning to your taste (we added about 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of black pepper at this stage).
You can smooth out the sauce with a hand mixer after about an hour of cooking, if you want (we didn’t).
This sauce can be served on its own or with added ingredients. In our case we sautéed a chopped yellow pepper and some chopped mushrooms in olive oil and butter and added them before serving – tossing the sauce, spaghetti and the pepper/mushroom mix all together in a large bowl just before serving with crusty bread.