Home-canned Tomato Sauce

INGREDIENTS

15 (yes, fifteen) lbs ripe tomatoes
1/4 to 1/2 Cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice or Red Wine Vinegar
2 tsp Kosher salt (optional)
Optional:
Mediterranean Oregano
Granulated Garlic
Minced Onion
Leaf Basil

STEPS

(A little background.)  Making tomato sauce is super-simple — no fancy culinary “tricks” here! But it’s definitely a labor-intensive process. Whether you make a single jar’s-worth of sauce, or this modest batch of 8 pint jars, it will take you the better part of a weekend afternoon. It’s delicious, though, and totally worth it. Future you, looking back from later this winter, will thank you for your thoughtfulness, spending part of a day using up the delicious extra tomatoes from the summer.

Don’t feel like canning? This batch is a smallish, manageable size that you could even cool, divide, and freeze in plastic bags if you prefer.

1) Choose some good-tasting tomatoes. Roma and paste tomatoes are a good variety, because they are more “meaty” and less “juicy” than other varieties, often with fewer seeds as well. But if you have a bounty of some other kind of tomato that you like, go for it. I like big, juicy slicing tomatoes because they come in cool colors and weird shapes — they taste really good, and there are fewer tomatoes to chop, overall than if you used smaller tomato varieties.

By the way, ugly tomatoes are great for sauce-making! If you can get a basket or box of misshapen or irregular-looking tomatoes at the farmers’ market at a reduced price, snap it up. You’re going to peel, chop and cook the tomatoes, so the fact that they are lumpy or less pretty is irrelevant to this project.

2) Get set up for the afternoon’s project by filling your biggest stock pot 3/4 full with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Mmeanwhile, also empty your icemaker contents into one side of your sink (or pour ice into a very large heatproof mixing bowl), and add water for an ice bath. Also, keep an extra container handy for the cores and skins on the tomatoes — these can go straight to the compost bin when you’re done.

3) Prepare the tomatoes for blanching. Use a sharp knife* to cut out the core/stem end of each tomato. Next, cut a shallow “X” in the bottom of each fruit. This will help the skin slide off the tomato later. Blanch the tomatoes in batches: gingerly drop several cored tomatoes into the boiling water. Let tomatoes boil until the skin starts to wrinkle and split, about 1 minute. Using a heatproof slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes from the boiling water to the ice bath. Repeat with additional batches of cored tomatoes: blanch in the boiling water, then transfer to the ice bath. Move the tomatoes from the ice bath to another large bowl as they cool. When you are all done blanching, pour out the blanching water from the stock pot (no need to dry).

This next part is messy: peel all the blanched, cooled tomatoes, using your hands and/or a sharp paring knife to remove the skins from the tomatoes. Toss the peels in your compost container with the tomato cores.

4) Working in batches, coarsely chop the tomatoes, with a knife, or in your blender or food processor. You decide whether you want a chunky tomato sauce (leave the tomato pieces bigger), or a smoother tomato purée. You can also use a hand-crank food mill for an even smoother, seed-free tomato sauce.

5) Simmer the sauce. Transfer the peeled, chopped tomatoes (and any juices the chopping has created) back to the stock pot you originally used for blanching. Bring the tomatoes to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reaches the taste and consistency you like, 30 to 90 minutes. Shorter simmer-times will make a thinner sauce; longer times will cook down the tomatoes and make a thicker, more concentrated sauce. If you are adding seasonings to the tomatoes, add them now as they simmer, a little bit at a time, adjusting the herbs and spices to taste.

6) Finishing touches. When the sauce has reached its desired thickness, stir in the lemon juice (or red wine vinegar) and salt. Stir in at least 1/4 Cup of the lemon juice or vinegar and salt to ensure a safe level of acidity for canning. Taste and add more lemon juice or vinegar as needed.

7) Freezer, or pantry? Let the sauce cool, then transfer it into containers for freezing or jars for storing.

If you choose the former, allow sauce to cool completely, then ladle into freezer-safe containers, or into freezer bags. Sauce can be kept frozen for at least three months before using.

If you’re feeling especially enthusiastic, or you just really want to put something pretty in your Weck jars, you can also can the tomato sauce by transferring the still-hot sauce to hot, sterilized canning jars. Top with new, sterilized lids, and screw on the rings until finger tight. Process in a pot of boiling water for 30 minutes. Let cool completely on the counter. Home-canned tomato sauce will “keep” on your pantry shelf for up to one year.

A note: This post is NOT NOT NOT a safety guide to canning. Consult a USDA handbook or this excellent (and free!) Iowa State Extension guide to tomato canning for food safety precautions.

Depending on how (and whether) you spice your tomato sauce, you have a ready-made base for homemade soups, lasagna, pasta, pizza, even Bloody Mary drinks.

*(the special tomato knife from Wusthof is worth it weight in gold – they last forever and come in really handy every time you need to slice a tomato)