Sarah's Garden Week 26: Last Tomato Harvest and Tomato Sauce

Well I think this is about it for the tomatoes!  Here's my last harvest:


These were a little more mealy than my earlier tomatoes and I picked some a bit early because I was afraid of colder temperatures later in the week.  So I made them into tomato sauce!  After years of fiddling with sauce from fresh tomatoes (for some reason canned tomatoes are easier to make in to sauce for me - they have less of that bite that I love so much in fresh tomatoes but not so much in my tomato sauce) I think I have figured out the secret to good fresh tomato sauce.  Here's my non-recipe:

First you need to skin your tomatoes, otherwise you'll have little pieces of tomato skin floating around in your sauce - obviously I've made this mistake before.  The easiest way to skin tomatoes is to parboil.  Just bring a big pot of water to a boil, cut a little X at the bottom of each tomato and submerge in the boiling water for a few seconds or until you can see the skin starting to loosen.  Then fish them out (there's probably a kitchen utensil for this but a large spoon does the trick for me) and throw them all in a large bowl of cold water to stop them from cooking.  Some people use ice water but I just use cold tap water because ice is too fancy for me.  Also you're going to be cooking these in a minute anyway so I don't think it's the worst thing in the world if they don't entirely stop cooking.  Then I just run the tomatoes under cold water while I peel the skins off and then roughly chop them - these were pretty small anyway so I cut them into quarters, making sure to get rid of the tough stem-end.  I don't take out the seeds - I like the flavor and the extra water means you don't have to add any extra liquid when cooking the sauce.

Then just heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and add either some minced onion or garlic.  I had garlic this time so I used that, but onion or shallots work too.  For this amount of tomatoes (probably 4-5 cups chopped?  I never measure) I used four small garlic cloves.  You don't want so much that it tastes like garlic or onion, you just want to add a little of the flavor in the background.  Before the garlic burns (a common problem of mine) throw in all the tomatoes and stir it all around.  Then add some salt and black pepper and simmer uncovered for a long time - I give it an hour but more is always better.  It'll look pretty weak and watery for the first 20-30 minutes or so but then it'll start to thicken up and actually look like tomato sauce.  Then you need to add tomato paste - this is definitely the thing that elevates it from tasting like fresh tomatoes to something you would actually put on pasta.  I start with about a tablespoon, stir it in well, and then taste it a few minutes later and add more if needed.  This time I used about two tablespoons but I was also trying to use up my tomato paste that had been sitting in the fridge for a while.

Then I add soy sauce - just a little.  I usually under-salt things anyway so I add the soy sauce to help with that and also because I like the taste.  And then this time I did something that I would usually never do:  I added a few teaspoons of plain white sugar.  Weird, right?  But I had heard that it helped and it really did!  I was really afraid it would be too sweet but the tomatoes weren't all that sweet to begin with.  I think it was the sugar that really made this taste good and it kind of feels like cheating?  But it tasted good so I'm okay with that.

So by now this has been simmering for about an hour and a lot of the liquid should have cooked off, leaving you with a thickish, chunky tomato sauce.  I mash up some of the larger pieces of tomato with my wooden spoon but I don't like it entirely smooth - though if you did you could certainly blend it (carefully!) in your blender or use one of those fancy kitchen utensils called an immersion blender to blend it right in the pan.  Right at the end I roll up a few leaves of basil from the garden and chiffonade them (that's a fancy word for cutting them into long strips) and then stir them in.  And that's it!  It may seem like it takes a while but most of the time you're just letting it simmer so you can do lots of other stuff, like wash all the dishes you've dirtied and boil some pasta.

Making tomatoes into sauce is a good way to use up tomatoes that you may not want to eat fresh because of weird texture or cosmetic issues.  This sauce is very forgiving!

A quick note on the garden:  I still have lots of green tomatoes and some of the tomato plants are still flowering so I'm going to let them keep going until we get our first frost.  Kale and chard are coming along, too but still not quite big enough to pick.  Soon!  Oh and yellow fig lost a few leaves and is now looking less yellow.  Such a fussy one, that fig.