Tomato Sauce

It's better homemade.

It was the day before I left for Bellingham, one more night before the process of moving and settling back in, then classes/homework...less time for let it simmer for a few hours kind of food projects. In my case, I decided to further stall the inevitable and pack sauce in jars rather than my clothes and books in boxes. That last night in beautiful Missoula was the perfect one for making tomato sauce from the 20 something MT homegrown tomatoes my friends gifted me with over break. Even popping them as midday snacks I still had way too many left. 

Tomato sauce sounded simple enough – the right blend of spices, garlic, onions and a hodgepodge of beautiful slightly overripe tomatoes.

Be forewarned, this is a roll up your sleeves project. Granted my general organization and tidiness tendencies don’t always extend the kitchen, I used every counter and cutting board for preparation and ended up with a few tomato juice streaks down the drawers.

A good tomato sauce is like a good bread dough, it’s awesome on its own, just tomatoes and a bit of salt. But you can really kick it up a notch with fresh herbs and not rushing the time it takes for the fruit to really simmer and break down.

Basic Tomato Sauce
25 medium sized tomatoes or a mix and match of comparable large and small
3-5 TBS of Marsala (high alcohol cooking wine) or just some leftover cheap red wine
A large onion, diced
3 cloves (or more) of garlic
2 peppers of your choice - bell, jalapenos - whatever your spice preference
pinch of salt, few grinds of pepper
A few generous handfuls of fresh basil

1) Process your tomatoes. First, slice an X in the bottom of each then blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds or until the skin peels back with your fingernail. Transfer them to a pot of ice water to cool.

2) Peel the skins off and cut your tomatoes in quarters. I decided to use a strainer over a measuring cup to drain out the seeds and reserve the juice to add back in later. It was sort of tedious, but nice to have the extra juice to add back in later once the sauce had thickened. Roughly chop up your tomatoes and transfer to a bowl.

3) Add a drizzle of olive oil, your onion and garlic to a non-aluminum pan (don't want the acids in the tomatoes to react with the metal or you'll get a funky taste). Add your peppers after a few minutes.

4) Once the onions are getting soft, add the Marsala/red wine and bring to a simmer, covering the pan.

5) Add the S&P and then your tomatoes, pushing down a bit with the spatula to break them up. You could probably use a potato masher for this to speed things up, but they will break down fine on their own too.

6) Leave the pan simmering uncovered on low heat for at least 30 minutes, checking in every now and then to make sure things are coming along. If you like a really chunky sauce like me, you might want to let it go for upwards of an hour - I promise its worth the wait! If you end up going a little overboard on thickening (which I did this time) you can add back some of your reserved sauce to reach that perfect medium. In just the last few minutes, stir in the chopped basil.

7) If you can't wait...cook some pasta and enjoy a ladle of your sauce right away. Or spoon into glass jars to use in a week in the fridge or to the freezer if you want to pull it out for a quick dinner later. The above recipe made 2 large glass jars worth of very thick sauce, you'd probably get 3 if you left it thinner.

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