With recent frosts and ever colder fall weather, tomato season is rapidly approaching its end. Whether from the garden, CSA or farmers' market, the bounty of tomatoes is upon us! Pick up your remaining tomatoes before winter really sets in.
One way to preserve that bounty is to make sauce. In a day when celebrity sauces bring top-dollar prices (Mario Batali's 24-ounce jar of marinara sauce is $1.33 per half-cup; Rao's Homemade Marinara is about $1.50 for a half-cup serving) making your own excellent sauce is a much cheaper alternative. Even "run of the mill" pasta sauces run at around $2 or higher for a 24-ounce jar.
A century ago, all tomato sauce was homemade. Back in 1937, two Italian immigrants, Giovanni and Assunta Contisano, started selling their homemade sauce out of the trunk of their car. Eventually, the first Ragu plant was opened in Rochester. The first jarred tomato sauce was made by Ragu in 1971.
Today, many are rediscovering the goodness of homemade once more. Jarred sauces are often made from processed, rather than fresh, ingredients, and are full of additives like flavor enhancers, dyes and preservatives. Start a new family tradition that your kids will remember. Nothing you can buy compares with the taste of homemade sauce from your own tomatoes or ones fresh-picked from a local farm. Can some to taste the summer flavor of fresh tomatoes in midwinter.
Tomatoes are famous for being rich in antioxidants - especially lycopene, as well as vitamins C, A and K. They're also a good source of potassium. Lycopene may prevent some cancers and help inhibit heart disease. Cooking tomatoes makes some of their antioxidants, like lycopene, more bio-available - while destroying other nutrients, like vitamin C.
End of summer - when tomatoes are plentiful, tasty and cheap - is the time to make your own sauce. And it's not a difficult task. If you want, you can peel and seed the tomatoes (some say the seeds can add a bitter touch) - but we don't bother with those extra steps. For a smoother sauce, blend with immersion blender.
If you want to peel the tomatoes, drop them one at a time in boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds, then rinse under cold water. Cut the top and peel the skin. I've also read that running the dull side of a knife blade over the outside of the tomato skin helps to separate it from the pulp for peeling with no heat and no water.
Simply put some tomatoes into a saucepan with a little wine or broth, salt, pepper and a bit of honey or sugar. Use fresh herbs, onions and garlic for flavor. Some people even add fresh carrots, peppers or mushrooms. Bring to a boil, stir, lower the heat, and simmer for an hour. Adjust the seasonings, and serve, or place in sterilized jars and seal for later use.
There's more than one way to make tomato sauce. For a rich, complex flavor, simmer the sauce a long time on the stove in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or in a Crock-Pot - that way, it can simmer while you work or sleep. The long cooking melds the flavors together and thickens the sauce as the water cooks off. Simmer at least two hours, or all day.
You can also roast tomatoes for sauce instead of cooking them. This makes a sweeter sauce. Oil a glass (not aluminum or metal) baking dish, cut small tomatoes in half or quarters, sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast for three hours at 225 degrees or for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with fresh herbs during the last 15 to 20 minutes of baking. Then put tomatoes through a food processor for a smooth sauce, and add other flavoring ingredients as desired (onions, garlic, etc.) Tomatoes roasted this way also make a great bruschetta topping.
For the fresh taste of summer, a raw tomato sauce is deliciously refreshing. Use fresh tomatoes at their peak of ripeness. Simply chop tomatoes, season with fresh herbs (basil, oregano, parsley), salt and pepper and a little olive oil. To give the flavors a chance to blend, let it sit for a few hours at room temperature. Use as bruschetta or grilled bread, spread on pizza, toss with pasta, or just eat as a salad.
Another option for ripe tomatoes in season is a lightly cooked sauce. Cooking them briefly adds depth while retaining their light, tart-sweet flavor. Sauteing garlic, caramelizing onions and adding fresh herbs infuse this sauce with flavor without long cooking.
Whatever method you prefer, use as a sauce on pasta, or as a topping for pizza or bruschetta. You can also can it in jars, tie with a nice ribbon and add a box of pasta and a recipe for your favorite pasta dish, then give as Christmas gifts.
Summer Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Zucchini
2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes
1 pound young, tender zucchini (combination yellow and green is best)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 small sweet onion or 3 scallions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Water and salt
8 ounces pasta
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Shredded cheese and balsamic vinegar
Wash and chop tomatoes and zucchini (seeding optional). Place in bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, fresh herbs, onions and garlic. Sprinkle with olive oil, and let sit for a couple of hours.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook just until al dente.
Drain the pasta. Transfer to a large serving bowl.
Drain about 1/2 cup liquid from the tomato-zucchini mixture, and toss with the pasta to coat. Add cheese, and toss until it begins to melt. Add tomatoes and zucchini, and toss to combine. Serve right away. Pass additional cheese and balsamic vinegar.
Roasted Chunky Tomato Sauce
2 pounds small tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil
Lightly oil the bottom of 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish (not metal or aluminum). Halve or quarter tomatoes.
Arrange tomatoes, skin side down, in dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and remaining olive oil. Roast at 250 degrees for 6 hours (or at 350 degrees for 45 minutes). Sprinkle with herbs during last 15 minutes of baking.
Combine with cooked pasta, and add shredded cheese and a little balsamic vinegar, if desired. You can also add some cooked or canned garbanzo beans for a little extra protein to make it a meal.
Or toast baguette slices, top with a spoonful of baked tomatoes and some additional fresh basil, add a sprinkle of cheese, and return to oven to melt the cheese.
For a smoother sauce, you can put the roasted tomatoes through a food processor.
Traditional Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion (about 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small carrot (about 1/2 cup chopped)
1 stalk celery
2-3 cloves garlic
1 cup dry white wine and/or 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
1 bay leaf
3 to 4 pounds tomatoes
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and dice the onion. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add to pan and sprinkle with salt. Wash and chop the carrot fine, and add. Wash and slice celery stalk, and add. Cook about 5 minutes or until onion is translucent. Peel and mince the garlic, and add. Cook another 2 minutes.
Add wine, broth or combination. Stir; add herbs, tomatoes and honey. Simmer on low heat 45 minutes to an hour until sauce thickens. Taste, and add salt, pepper and additional herbs if needed. Makes about 1 quart.
Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.