Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Secrets to Tomato Sauce(s)

Photo courtesy KReese

Like many folks, I grow and can tomatoes in many forms. I make some into salsas, some into flavored sauces for spaghetti, pizza, etc... and some for all kinds of tomato relish, even green tomato 'mincemeat'.

Over time, I have found roasted tomatoes make the best sauces, whether fire-roasted, or oven-roasted; fire-roasted is best but not most convenient. I started oven-roasting tomatoes several years ago with a recipe posted in the Recipe Forum over on Dave's Garden. The first time I made after moving here, a neighbor's son stopped by... and insisted on a taste. He said it was the best-smelling, best-tasting tomato sauce he ever had... and now his mother makes it this way too.

Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce
4 pounds (+/-) tomatoes, stem and quarter
1 large onion, red or yellow, coarsely chopped (or 2-3 small)
2 Jalapeño peppers, seeded (leave seeds in one for extra heat)
16 cloves garlic
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dry oregano (or a bunch fresh oregano and basil)

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Use a 9 x 13 baking pan. Oil the bottom and sides of the pan, add other ingredients and drizzle remaining oil on top. Roast for 1½ hours, stirring occasionally, until juices are getting thick and tomatoes are just beginning to char. Let cool, and run through a food mill to remove seeds and skins. Season with salt and pepper. Freeze in portions, or process in a pressure canner following USDA guidelines. (To be safe, I only pressure-can tomatoes with some lemon juice in each jar.)

Photo courtesy KReese

Roasted Tomato Sauce Adaptations
Several pounds tomatoes, stem and quarter
3-4 large onions, quartered
2-3 bell peppers, quartered
several cloves garlic
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Use directions from recipe above. Add any herbs to taste. After straining, you can add a can of tomato paste if you want it thicker, or some red wine to thin it. I've even added mushrooms! You may want to add a bit of sugar if your tomatoes are very acidic-tasting. Freeze, or pressure-can.

Now if you really want to make a jazzy fire-roasted salsa, gather:
Lots of tomatoes
Some Bell peppers
Some Hot peppers
A few Carrots
Fresh herbs, your choice
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak some wood chips overnight. Build a hot fire on the grill (not with charcoal briquettes, they have additives that will taint the taste). Slice the carrots lengthwise into quarters, core the peppers, halve or quarter the onions... leave everything else whole. Add the wood chips to the hot coals to make smoke... and place everything on the grill to smoke/char for a few minutes. (You may need to do it in batches if you are making any quantity.)

As ingredients are roasted, place in a large soup pot on the stove. (Tomatoes will skin easily after being on the grill.) Cook over medium heat until the flavors mellow and the sauce has thickened. Run through a food mill if you don't like chunky salsa. Freeze in smaller portions, or use a pressure canner. The smoke/char flavor adds a dimension to salsa not found on grocery store shelves. YUM!

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