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I'm sure that many of you are doing exactly what I'm doing right now—bringing in lots and lots of fresh tomatoes from the garden everyday; many more than you could possibly eat fresh. So that means its once again time to hear the battle cry "Its Tamata Saucin' Time!" in the McGrath household.
We grow most of our tomatoes to 'put up'—like you have to do with me. Actually, this 'putting up' involves sealing sauce and juice in Mason jars, which, come to think of it, many of you may want to do with me…
Anyway, to get a really rich flavor we sauce together lots of different kinds of tomatoes, mixing big heirlooms like Georgia Streak, Brandywine, Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter and Black Krim with traditional pasters like Roma and Bellstar and Heinz, oh my!
Those big juicy ones add lots of flavor to the finished product, but they also make it harder to get there because they also add lots of non-meaty liquid to the mix. And so, over the years, we've developed a method that gives us lots of nice thick sauce QUICKLY—which is not only important in time saved, it also means the finished stuff contains lots more vitamins than something that cooked away for hours and hours.
Here's that fabulous time-saving technique—and my basic sauce-making recipe. If you always put up sauce, this will help you do it faster. If you've never done it before, consider this your official encouragement to enjoy this year's harvest throughout the winter—hopefully until you start getting fresh ones again!
• Collect all your nice, ripe tomatoes, wash them well, and cut them right down the center, so you can easily carve out the stem part. If a tomato has a few little imperfections or bug holes, cut them away completely. If in doubt about a tomato's wholesomeness, don't use it.
• Most people remove the skins; I don't understand why—it's nice solid tomato stuff and contains nutrients not found in other parts of the fruit. (And the Vita-Mix food processor I use is so powerful, the skins just disappear into the blend.) Some people also run their tomatoes through a sieve that strains out the seeds; again, I don't—those seeds do a nice little scrubbing job as they leave you later on (more info than you wanted or needed? Thought so…).
• Chop a batch of these cored and cleaned tomatoes into quarters, mostly fill a blender or food processor with them, and then before whizzing, add one of the following to each batch:
o Onions; I use a total of two or three per big stockpot worth of sauce.
o Garlic; I add three or four BULBS—not cloves, BULBS, to each pot worth.
o herbs: The stripped leaves of basil, oregano, whatever you like, whatever you got. You can mix several herbs together, but I like to herbally season each batch singly. This year's first batch contained onions, garlic and oregano; the second, onions, garlic and basil…you get the idea.
Chop these seasoning things up finely and whiz each 'one' up well with the actual tomatoes (this mixes the seasonings in better than you could possibly achieve otherwise) and pour the resulting glop into a big stainless steel (NOT ALUMINUM!!!) stock pot. Don't turn on any heat till you got a couple inches of stuff in the pot, and then set it at a low simmer.
• Get your canning stuff together: Mason jars and rings that have just been washed and are still nice and hot from the dishwasher, lids and a pot of water to heat them in, a slotted spoon to pick them out of that water without scalding yerself, a big pot of hot water with a rack to do the actual canning in, and one of them grabber tools to lift the finished jars out.
• About five minutes before you're ready to actually start, add a gurgle or seven of soy sauce (better in my mind than naked salt, and it adds nice color to the sauce) and some ground black pepper and stir well. (Some people would sweeten their sauce at this point. Don't be like them. Or get some hoi-sin sauce at a Chinese grocery and mix a couple of tablespoons of that in instead of just using sugar.)
• OK—now here's the cool time saving, thicker saucing part. You'll notice that the really thin liquid stuff is all rising bubbling to the top of your pot of cooking sauce. Get another stainless steel pot and a strainer. Using a big-handled cup, skim this liquid stuff off the top and run it through the strainer so that the juice goes into that other pot. Anything that gets stuck in the strainer goes back into the sauce pot. Keep going, stirring the rapidly thickening sauce as you do. When the liquid is mostly gone, begin using the stuff that gets trapped in the strainer to fill your first run of jars—you'll get a nice batch of wonderfully thick tomato paste.
• Then, you can simply jar the liquid stuff up separately when you've used up all the really thick sauce or you can add another level of coolness to this trick. The liquid in the second pot, if left alone and unheated, will also separate, with a light tomato juice rising to the surface and lots of saucy solids dropping to the bottom. If you have a big sparkling-clean glass jar, pour your 'juice' into it and wait about a half hour—you'll see a clear line of demarcation. Then, using a clean turkey baster, suck the lighter-colored thin stuff off the top. I don't can this up; I just put it in quart sized glass jars in the fridge and use it to make tomato soup or in place of some of the cooking water when I make soup stock.Yum.
• Then can up the darker colored stuff that settled down low. You can use this half-juice, half-sauce to make ridiculous lyrich tomato soups, or with a little cooking down, a wonderful, naturally-smooth tomato sauce.
• Always follow the directions that came with your canning jars and lids exactly.
• Tomatoes are easy; their high acid content makes them one of the only foods you can 'put up' safely without a pressure cooker. Still, be careful—make sure the jars are REALLY sterilized (I always time a dish washer run so the jars are clean and hot when the sauce is ready), make sure that everything you use is good and clean, and wipe the tops of the jars with a clean, dry paper towel before you put the lids on. I generally cook pints for 20 to 25 minutes in the canner; quarts I let go for half an hour.
• Use a special tool to remove the jars when they're done (they're HOT!), and let them sit out at room temperature. After 24 hours has (have?) passed, remove the rings. If you did it right, the lids will be sealed tight and the jars can then be stored in a cool dry spot for a year. And hey—even if you failed and the lids didn't seal, you're okay. Put the lids and rings back on those jars and they'll stay fresh in the fridge for several weeks. Or freeze the contents up in plastic containers for longer storage.