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Tomato Quandary? Go Straight to the Sauce

Overloaded with delicious summer tomatoes from local farms, Jessica faces down her fear of making red sauce from scratch.

So I once again find myself in the midst of tomato season—piles of tomatoes seem to appear every time I turn around (okay, maybe piles is a bit of an exaggeration, but seriously, we have a lot of tomatoes.)  We have been eating BLT's, tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad, and we even tried a couple new recipes this week—grilled bread salad that was really good, and a roasted cherry tomato and goat cheese pasta that was simple and scrumptious.

There is one thing I had not tried to make this week—homemade tomato sauce.  In fact, I have never tried to make tomato sauce from scratch because somehow I have convinced myself that it is either a) too complicated, or b) too time consuming.  This is odd; I am generally pretty daring in the kitchen and particularly fond of a challenge.  So I decided to put on my daring apron and conquer my fear, right here, right now. 

Let's get cooking…

Whenever I am attempting something in the kitchen that is at all intimidating, I turn to James Peterson, chef and author of many incredibly helpful cookbooks, including Cooking, which is my right hand in the kitchen.  For the tomato sauce challenge I grab Vegetables, his tome on buying, storing, and preparing vegetable.  I choose his quick tomato sauce because it only has three ingredients and seems simple enough.

The ingredients couldn't be more straight forward:  6 lbs of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped, salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Makes 5 cups.  I proudly pull out my kitchen scale and weigh my tomatoes.  I only have 3 pounds on hand, so I decide 2 ½ cups of sauce is plenty for me.  So far, so good. 

Then we hit the peeling part.  Is it even possible to peel a tomato?  I begin to panic, envisioning a run to the kitchen store for some fancy tomato peeling devise, when it occurs to me that Peterson wouldn't just leave me hanging like that.  I find "intro to tomatoes" in the index.

Turns out that the only fancy tool required for peeling tomatoes is a pot of boiling water.  I plop the fresh tomatoes into the boiling water for 15-30 seconds, depending on their ripeness (less ripe will require more time because the skin is less tender.)  I then dump them into a colander and run some cold water over them.  By this point, the skin was already falling off some of my tomatoes.

Next, cut the stem out of the tomato.  Check.  Cut the tomatoes in half.  Check.  And pull off the skin.  Check.  Remarkably easy.  Seeding turns out to be fun (if you don't mind getting messy).  I quarter the tomatoes as instructed and then just dig out the seeds with my fingers.  The seeds just slide right out.  Finally, I coarsely chop my peeled and seeded beauties.  I am now officially ready to make a sauce. 

The rest is a walk in the park.  I simmer the tomatoes in a non-aluminum pan for 20 minutes.  Then, I separate the juice from the pulp by straining the mixture in a colander.  The juice goes back into the pan until it cooks down to a "lightly syrupy consistency".  At this point, the pulp returns to the pan and I cook it down to a consistency I like and then season to taste with salt and pepper.  And Voila!  I have made for myself homemade tomato sauce. 

The final verdict?  My fears were completely unfounded. Making sauce was not complicated at all and the whole process probably took about two hours (with a lot of down time to do other things).  As for taste, this particular sauce is very simple, really relying on the fresh tomatoes for flavor.  If you are accustomed to more seasoned store-bought sauces, you may want to get a little more adventurous.  Next time, I might try adding some roasted garlic or fresh herbs. 

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