summer fresh tomato sauce

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My requirements for the perfect tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes were very specific – the same issues that everyone has with removing enough liquid from the tomatoes without cooking away all the fresh flavor that makes them so special, plus one more – I did not want to peel the tomatoes. I hate peeling tomatoes. I hate using a vegetable peeler to peel them, and I hate cutting an X into the bottom of each one, then boiling them, then dipping them in cold water, and then pulling the peels off. I cooked sixteen pounds of tomatoes into this batch of sauce, which was well over fifty tomatoes. I do not want to individually peel fifty tomatoes.

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This recipe satisfies all of those requirements, with an added bonus – you don’t even have to core the tomatoes. The tomatoes, very roughly chopped, are cooked down slightly to soften them, then pressed through a food mill – the mill strains out the seeds, cores, and peels. For a batch this large, it’s still a somewhat tedious process, but nothing compared to the prospect of coring and peeling each tomato individually.

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From there, the fresh tomato puree is divided into three portions – one portion is simmered on the stovetop with aromatics until it reaches a sauce consistency. Another is kept fresh, with no cooking at all. If just these two portions were combined, the resulting sauce would be too liquidy, so the final portion is transferred to a baking pan and roasted until it’s thick and slightly caramelized.

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These three mixtures each have something different to offer to the final sauce, and the combination of them makes a sauce with the best that tomatoes have to offer in any form – the bright summeriness of uncooked tomatoes, the deep savoriness of roasted tomatoes. It’s thick enough for anything you’d normally use tomato sauce for – meatballs and spaghetti like we did here, pizza, lasagna. All that, and the only real work you have to do is quarter the tomatoes and push them through a food mill. This has become my summer staple, with extra in the freezer to hoard as long as I can stand.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Summer Fresh Tomato Sauce
(slightly adapted from Serious Eats)

The original recipe starts with 25 pounds of tomatoes. The largest batch I’ve made was 16 pounds, but I’ve also made much smaller batches with just a handful of tomatoes. I’ve based my recipe on ten pounds because it’s a nice round number.

While the recipe recommends any variety of tomato, I’d be hesitant to use all cherry tomatoes, which could make the sauce too sweet. Also, wetter variety of tomatoes will take longer to reduce to a sauce or paste consistency.

If you’re scaling this recipe up or down, put about 40% of the puree in the oven, leave 10% uncooked, and cook the remaining 50% on the stove.

Makes about 1 quart of sauce, although it will depend on the type(s) of tomatoes used

10 pounds tomatoes, any variety, quartered, or halved if small
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh basil
1 small tomato plant cutting with about 5 leaves attached (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large (7- or 8-quart) stockpot over medium heat, cook the tomatoes, covered, until they begin to soften and release their liquid. (You may need to do this in multiple batches, depending on the size of your largest pot and the size of the batch you’re making.) Transfer the tomatoes to a food mill on the finest setting set over a large bowl and press the tomatoes through. Discard the skins and seeds that accumulate in the food mill.

2. Spray two 9-by-13-inch (or similarly sized) baking pans with cooking spray (or grease lightly with olive oil). Pour 3½ cups of tomato puree into each of the pans. Transfer the pans to the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until the puree has reduced to a paste and leaves a clean trail when a spatula is dragged through it, 2 to 4 hours.

3. Pour another 1½ cups of tomato puree into a small container. Set aside.

4. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the onion and a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the remaining tomato puree and cook, stirring very occasionally, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 1 to 2 hours. Remove from the heat, add the basil and tomato leaves (if using) and set aside for about 5 minutes. Remove the basil and tomato leaves and discard them.

5. Combine the three mixtures, and add salt to taste. Serve, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze.

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