A simple tomato sauce that can be used in so many different recipes!
Thank you friends! You have been really patient…and we have been somewhat of a tease (No!…not in that way!). We realize that many of you have been waiting for the recipe to our parents’ homemade tomato sauce, which we reference frequently in other recipes. We’ve told you that if you didn’t have your own homemade sauce, that you could use passata or some other sort of tomato product as a substitute in many meals, and you’ve been very understanding…but you still ask about our parents’ sauce. And we’re happy you do!
We are finally able to share the recipe for our parents’ tomato sauce with you, because we finally had the opportunity to make the sauce with them. Don’t misunderstand; we have been helping them with this end-of-summer job for as long as we can remember, but this is the first time we helped them, Mia Kouppa-style (also known as chasing them around the kitchen with measuring cups and trying, once again, to make them understand that “as much as you want” is not a unit of measure). It was fun.
Given the anticipation, and the fact that you have waited so long, we are a little worried that you might be disappointed, because this recipe is actually nothing special. There are no secret ingredients, no unusual spice blends, no unique cooking methods (although there is some activity that takes place in the garage!). Actually, their tomato sauce is nothing more than tomatoes, salt, lemon juice, olive oil and basil…and a lot of elbow grease. So, if you read this recipe and decide that it doesn’t appear to be worth the trouble, believe us…it is! Have we ever steered you wrong?
Few ingredients mean that you need incredible ingredients. One of the reasons that our parents’ tomato sauce is so great is because they use vine-ripened tomatoes from their pretty massive garden. When their yield is not what it should be, they go to a local (not so local, actually – we’re city folk) farm to pick tomatoes. This, like horta picking, has always been a family activity. The more hands there are to pick tomatoes, the more tomatoes get picked. They also visit glorious places like Jean Talon Market to get bushels of ripe plum tomatoes.
Whether you use your own garden tomatoes, or purchase them (or pick them) from a farmers market, make sure that the tomatoes you use are delicious enough to eat on their own, sprinkled with a touch of salt. Just as you shouldn’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink (although, frankly, we’ve never met a wine we wouldn’t drink), you should not make sauce with tomatoes that are not good enough to use in your Greek salad.
Our parents use all sorts of tomatoes to make their sauce, because they grow different varieties in their garden. So, they will often combine beefsteak tomatoes with plum or Roma tomatoes, as well as other heirloom varieties, so long as they are red; they don’t ever use other coloured tomatoes in their sauce.
When our parents make sauce, they MAKE sauce. They prepare between one hundred to one hundred and fifty, 1 liter mason jars of tomato sauce a summer. They use it often in their meals, like pasta with meat sauce, moussaka and roasted cauliflower. They also very generously supply their children ( 🙂 ) with it too. Some people bring cake when they are invited for dinner…our parents bring tomato sauce…and cake. We do realize however, that for many of you, preparing this large quantity of jars is
obscene unnecessary. So, the recipe and directions which follow will give you a smaller yield. Feel free to double, triple or quadruple it as you see fit. You can even half it if you like.
Making this tomato sauce is a bit of a process, that will likely extend over two days, three if you need to purchase or pick your tomatoes. The first step it to cut and drain your tomatoes, and the second is to prepare and can the sauce. One person can technically do all of this, but it is much more fun to make sauce as a family, or with a group of friends.
In order to make this tomato sauce you will need a food mill. If you are making a small quantity of sauce, then a small food mill is fine. If you are going to be making quantities like our parents, then invest in a larger mill. Food mills are great because you can pass the tomatoes through them, and the seeds and skin will be separated from the juice and pulp. All this activity can get pretty messy, and so, as you can see, our parents food mill set up is in their garage…with newspapers laid all over the floor. Pretty high class. You can also see that there is a plastic bag connecting the food mill spout to the bucket that the juice falls into…fancy engineering to direct the sauce into the pail! When the weather is nice, our parents sometimes do this in the backyard.
In the spirit of waste nothing, the skin and seeds that would otherwise be discarded are added to the garden soil.
The quantity of tomato sauce made in early September lasts throughout the year, therefore, food safety, as it pertains to canning and preserving, is vitally important. We will describe the steps that our parents take to ensure that their tomato sauce is well preserved and safe, but for more information, you can consult some online resources devoted to canning (like here or here). We really recommend that you do some background reading if you are going to explore the world of canning.
If you don’t want to can, or feel that you can’t, simply make a smaller quantity of sauce and store it in the fridge for use within a few days. If you are going to go this route, then you technically don’t need to add the lemon juice; the lemon juice is added primarily to make the tomato sauce more acidic, for preserving purposes. Also, if you are going to open up a can of sauce and only use a portion of it, store the remainder in the fridge. It will be fine for several days.
If, when you are ready to use your canned and preserved tomato sauce, it appears mouldy, smells funky or tastes off…get rid of it. Also, if the vacuum seal is broken, toss the sauce (like, toss it in the trash, not with your pasta).
Makes 10 1-Liter jars of tomato sauce.
- Food mill
- Sterile canning jars, lids and bands
- 30 lbs tomatoes
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) salt
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) vegetable oil
- 10 fresh basil leave bunches (and stems)
- 1 cup (250 mL) olive oil, approximately
- The day before you actually make the sauce, you will need to prepare your tomatoes. Wash and core your tomatoes. Cut them into chunks. Mix them, in a large bowl, with the salt. Place your tomatoes in large colanders, set over large bowls, to drain. Allow them to drain this way for 12 to 14 hours. However, if you don’t have enough colanders to drain all of your tomatoes, it’s fine. Leave them in the buckets as is. You’ll simply add more time to the heating process, to get rid of the excess liquid.
- After the draining time, you will cook your tomatoes. In a large saucepan add about 1/4 inch of olive oil. Next, add the tomatoes to the pot and cook them, over medium heat until heated through. Stir regularly. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly.
- Next, you will pass the heated tomatoes through the food mill, according to your food mill’s instructions. You will see that the juice and pulp of the tomatoes gets separated from the skin and seeds. After you collect enough skin and seeds, pass these through the food mill again; you will be surprised to see how much more liquid can get squeezed out of there.
- Once you have passed all of the tomatoes through the food mill, it is time to cook your tomato sauce. Add the lemon juice to your tomato sauce. Cover the bottom of your pot with enough vegetable oil to come up about 1/2 inch, before adding the pureed tomatoes to the pot. Boil your sauce over medium heat for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring regularly. This will help thicken your sauce as the excess water will evaporate.
- While your sauce is cooking, sterilize your canning jars by inserting them in boiling water for about 10 minutes.
- Once your sauce is cooked, add one sprig of basil per sterilized jar. Pour the tomato sauce into the jars, leaving about 1 inch of head space between the top of the tomato sauce and where the screw top begins on the jar. Fill this space with olive oil. Place the canning disks and bands onto the jars and insert them into the water bath for about 20 minutes. Remove carefully the jars from the water bath and allow to cool. Check each lid to be sure that the can has been properly sealed. If it has not, store your tomato sauce in the fridge and use within a few days.
- Store your canned tomato sauce in a cool dark place. It can be used in a number of different recipes.