Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tomato sauce

Yup. Another recipe. Fresh tomato sauce is the best thing ever. It will cure you of any attachment you might have to bottled pasta sauces.

1 onion, diced
enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of your saucepan
1 large or 2 medium garlic cloves
8 cups roma tomatoes (about a dozen of the little buggers), cored and quartered
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons (or more, if you're trying to stretch) organic tomato paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
1/8 to 1/4 cup fresh basil, shredded

(Preliminary: if you have a food mill - those sauce-pan-shaped thingies with a blade on a crank used to smash soft foods through a sieved plate in the bottom, ignore this part. If not, boil some water, pour it over your tomatoes, let them sit for one minute, drain, and peel them before you quarter them. This doesn't take as long as it sounds like it will, but food mills are preferable. The peels won't go through the sieve, so you're spared the trouble of removing them yourself. And I think the sauce tastes richer when the tomatoes are unpeeled during the initial cooking process.)

Okay, now that you've dashed off to the store to buy a food mill - or peeled your tomatoes - you can start.

Saute the onions over medium heat in the olive oil in a large saucepan or chef's pan, until the onions are golden. This will take about five minutes. (You're looking for translucent onions which have turned a sort of golden yellow color. If they're browning, your fire is too hot. If turning them golden takes a lot longer than five minutes, your fire isn't hot enough.)

Press the garlic cloves into the pan (or mince them finely if you don't have a garlic press) and cook for one minute, stirring gently. Pour in the tomatoes and stir to coat with the onion, oil, and garlic stuff. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for fifteen to twenty minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and mushy and the skins are peeling off.

Spoon the tomatoes into any large container with a lip for pouring. Set up the food mill over your pan, and puree the tomato mixture back into it. This sounds work intensive, but it takes as long as - oh, ten minutes, maybe? Not long. (If you don't have a mill, you can puree your tomato mixture in a blender. Don't make it too smooth - it should have texture. Some people - well, okay, one guy and I haven't seen him in decades, but he exists - use a potato masher to squash their tomatoes for a very chunky texture, instead of pureeing. Suit yourself.)

Add the white wine, tomato paste, salt, and pepper to the tomato mixture. Bring the sauce back to a brisk simmer and let it thicken a bit - this will take up to half an hour, depending on the phase of the moon and a host of political factors. In other words, keep an eye on it, and turn it off when it looks thick enough to make you happy. Stir in the shredded basil a minute or two before you remove the sauce from the heat.

Now it's time to use your imagination. You can use this sauce as is, or stretch it with more tomato paste, or add meat to it. You can add some fresh oregano if you plan to serve it with beef, or crushed red pepper for some bite, or - if you're looking for a very intense flavor - add a couple of tablespoons of pesto to it. You can pour it in jars and freeze it (leaving plenty of head space so the jars don't break) or you can keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. In the last month, we've used it 1) as is over fresh cheese tortellini from the grocery store, 2) baked with gnocci, spinach, and cubed mozzarella, 3) pumped up with tomato paste and meatballs, and 4) as a seasoning in carbonara (that is, adding about a half-cup to a bacon, egg, and cheese sauce.)

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