I spent Friday, Saturday, and part of Sunday playing around with different methods of processing tomatoes (boiling, peeling, and seeding vs. the tomato strainer), as well as different ingredient combinations. By Sunday afternoon, we finally found a basic recipe we loved and wanted to can (when I say basic, the idea is that when we open a jar, we can then add extra spices, veggies, etc depending on what's on the menu).
Thankfully, the tomato strainer gave us the best product. So, rather than having to boil, peel, and seed the tomatoes, all I had to do was quarter them and drop them in the strainer. Dave and I decided it was WAY more fun to work on the sauce together, so I added the tomatoes to the strainer and maintained the collection pans (dumping juice as they filled) while he did the cranking and processing. What a team!
Of course, I should also give credit to Kelsey (our Shih Tzu). Her job was to make sure the floor stayed free of tomato juice drippings. What a pro! My little eager helper licked up every last drop - well, other than the ones that ended up on her neck while she hovered beneath us licking the floor. Let's just say bath-time happened soon afterward.
Next, I sauteed onion and garlic in copious amounts of olive oil and then added the tomato juice and pulp, as well as some salt and pepper (the seeds and skins from the tomatoes were reserved to add to my stir fry lunches this week). At this point, I was able to clean up the kitchen while the sauce simmered on the stove, uncovered so the water would boil off and the sauce would thicken. I did add a little cornstarch to help the process.
After about 5 hours of simmering (now 10:30 PM), I had finally achieved a good consistency and flavor. It was finally time to start processing jars! By 12:30 AM, we had 12 gorgeous pint jars of homemade, local spaghetti sauce and a small 1/2 jar full in the fridge for a special meal this week. Exhausted, we fell into bed without listening for the final pings of the last batch of jars sealing. Thankfully, when we awoke the next morning, we found that all the jars had sealed. Success!
At long last, here's our recipe for basic tomato sauce (on a smaller scale - 1 batch):
Fresh Tomato Sauce
- 3 pounds tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- Salt and pepper
- CornstarchPrep your tomatoes either by quartering them and processing through a strainer, or boiling them to remove the skins then seeding and chopping them. Set aside.Heat olive oil in a pan on low-medium heat and add onion. Sautee for 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Raise to medium high heat and allow to simmer on stove, uncovered, for several hours (or as long as it takes to achieve a consistency you like). Adding cornstarch will help the thickening process. Note: To add the cornstarch, ladle out some of the sauce into a separate bowl. Add the cornstarch to the bowl and whisk until smooth. Then add back to the saucepan.Experiment with spices like red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil. Add sauteed mushrooms, shredded carrots, or zucchini. Explore the possibilities, make it your own, but most importantly - Have fun!
Is this the end of my 2009 tomato adventures? Certainly not! I'll be harvesting tomatoes out of my backyard garden through (most likely) November. I'll strain any extra tomatoes, freeze the juice and pulp until I have enough to do a new batch, and begin the canning process again (although on a smaller scale - this was a total of 9 batches. Pshew!). And of course, from the comments on Tuesday, I'm totally going to try my own ketchup too!
So, twenty-nine pounds of tomatoes later, I may be a little tired, but we'll be enjoying local spaghetti sauce all year round. THAT alone is worth the effort. Happy canning!