Summertime is my favorite time of the year, not only because I can wear fewer garments on my back, but also because it’s the best season for fruits and vegetables, especially in California. I’m in produce heaven in summer. So I’ve been making a lot of jams, confits from fruits in season, and the biggest thing for me, tomato sauce. Nothing is better than tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes at the peak of the season.
This summer, I’ve been too busy with a lot of domestic issues: we partially remodeled our house, then a full-blown termite fumigation with the tent, meaning I had to pack all my foods (ahhhhhh), lotions and medicines. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it actually took days to pack and as of now, two weeks after the fumigation, I’m still in the middle of unpacking! On top of the chaos, I’m also playing landlord, turning over my tenants at my rental property too. That should be a good excuse from not posting anything for two weeks, shouldn’t it?
This week I would like to share with you a recipe for my pomodoro sauce. It’s so simple that at first I didn’t want to blog about it. I thought, everyone already knows how to make tomato sauce. Well, a lot of people who tasted my pomodoro sauce asked me how to make it, or what’s the secret. I’m always surprised when I tell people my secret and their eyes pop. Really, no one seems to be doing it this way! After you read this, please, someone, tell me that you make your tomato sauce the same way I do!
This is how I do it. I am going to start from the very beginning, peeling the tomatoes. This is going to be a photo journal–not only because I have much less time than usual, but also so get to see the bigger picture this way.
My secret #0 I only use organic tomatoes from the farmers’ market or homegrown tomatoes from my backyard.
I wouldn’t waste my time with conventionally grown or store-bought tomatoes because use almost EVERY PART of the fruit, so I want the least contamination possible. I don’t like genetically engineered tomatoes, either. It’s too weird, you know. I don’t trust them. I can spit the seeds of fruits out myself or pit them out, but if there is a tumor growing inside me, I have no way to spit it out!
My secret #1 I cut a cross on the TOP and BOTTOM of the tomatoes.
Using a sharp paring knife, cross-cut the bottom and top of the tomatoes to get them ready to be sacrificed…LOL. This makes them easy to peel later. I searched the internet and found that most recipes only say to cut the bottom. I find it easier to peel if you cut both ends.
My secret #2 I blanch only 2-3 tomatoes at a time.
Boil a pot of water and drop the tomatoes in to blanch. I can’t give you specific time because it depends on the ripeness and how long ago the tomatoes had left the vine. The harder the tomatoes, the less time you boil; the softer the tomatoes, the longer you boil. You can tell that it’s done blanching is by seeing the tomato’s skin tear along the length.
My secret #3 I use ice cold water to shock the tomatoes after blanching.
As soon as you see the torn skin, take the tomatoes out and drop them in cold water right away. My rhythm is blanching about 2-3 batches and then I start taking the tomatoes out of the ice water to peel, because tomatoes generally are afraid of prolonged cold and will lose their taste.
That’s why they say to keep tomatoes fresh and tasty, you leave them OUTSIDE the refrigerator. The tomatoes should be easy to peel. If the skin clings too tight to the flesh, you probably didn’t blanch them long enough or the cold water isn’t really cold enough. (I have ice cubes floating in a sink full of water.)
If you pull on the skin and you get a lot of flesh on the skin, you boiled them too long.
This is the picture of the perfectly peeled tomato on the right. You can see that the flesh is intact and you can’t see the veins. The one on the left lost too much flesh and is starting to show veins. It’s alright. We will fix these.
I put the “naked” tomatoes in a tray so they don’t have to stack on top of one another. This is totally unnecessary, just my personal issue.
My secret #4 I keep all the skin.
When I started to make my own pomodoro sauce, I didn’t know the right amount of time to blanch, so I got a lot of flesh sticking to the skin. In the beginning, I didn’t know how to get the flesh back into the sauce. Call me stingy but I hate to waste perfectly good food, so I boiled the skins as soon as I was done peeling all the tomatoes.
I heat them until they bubble, and then let simmer for a while. Keep the lid closed and go do something else, occasionally checking to see that the water hasn’t dried up in the pot. You still have a lot to do. We will get back to this part later.
My secret #5 I keep all the seeds and the gel around them.
Scoop the core of tomato out
and cut the tomato cross-ways.
Dig your finger in the seed pocket, pushing the seeds out into one bowl.
Cut all the flesh in small pieces and pile it up in another bowl.
I only put garlic, olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar in my pomodoro sauce. So I start with cooking chopped garlic in olive oil for 30 seconds, enough for garlic to release its aroma but not to brown the garlic. Salt and garlic amounts are to your preference.
My secret #00 I love to cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.
Now it’s time to add all the flesh in the pot and also add salt to start and let it cook up to a boiling stage. Let it boil until the flesh releases its juice and gets softer.
My secret #6 Once the flesh releases all its juice, I scoop it out of the pot.
I do this because I like my sauce “chunky”. If I let the flesh continue to boil together with the juice to the consistency of sauce, the chunks would break down to a mushy mess. So I scoop them out. This way not only do I get nice pieces of tomato flesh, I’ve preserved the fresh crisp taste of the fresh tomatoes as well. Keep the rest of the juice boiling.
My secret #7 I put the gel around the seeds back in the sauce.
I put all the seeds and the gel surrounding the seeds in a sieve and push them around to extract all the gel and juice out. Then I add the extracted juice to the boiling pot of tomato juice. (Remember, you also have a pot of skins simmering.)
Why do I bother with this? Because the gel surround the seeds has a very delicious, tangy taste that I can’t mimic with any other condiments. It’s rich with umami flavor. If you toss them out, your pomodoro sauce would taste mostly sweet and lack some of the wholesomeness and the umami taste.
My secret #8 I extract the paste out from the boiled skin.
After I’m done with the seeds and put the juice back into that pot, I turn off the heat under the pot simmering the tomato skins. While still in the pot, use a potato masher to mash the skins with the intention to release the flesh from the skin. Then put the entire contents of that pot into a sieve and start pushing the skin around.
Try your best to smear, smooth, push and scrape the tomato skins on the wire mesh of the sieve, or any other technique to separate and collect the red, beautiful flesh away from the skin. What you get is a nice paste. Make sure you scrape it off from the bottom of the sieve, too.
If you tasted it, you’d notice it doesn’t yield as much flavor anymore, unlike the rich flavor of the seed gel, especially once you get better at peeling the tomatoes, but I still want to get the good color and body into the sauce, so I do it. I’ve made it without this red paste too, but I found out that the color of the sauce wouldn’t be that bright red and the taste is less than ideal, but still good. So this step is optional.
Also, this way I end up with less than 2 cups of waste from 15 lbs. of tomatoes.
Once you’ve got all the paste from the skin, then add it back to the main boiling pot.
Let the contents in the pot boil until the liquid evaporates to your desired consistency. it will take a while depending on how many tomatoes you cook.
In the meantime, drink some more wine. Shouldn’t hurt the sauce.
How can one tell the right consistency?
This is entirely your preference. If I only use a few pounds of tomatoes (enough for one meal for 2 people) I can tell my right consistency by dragging the spoon in the sauce. If it leaves a “wake” in the sauce, that’s the right consistency for my preference.
If you make it for canning, the way I do, I boil the juice in the big pot. I just use the same method by dragging the spoon in the content. If the spoon leaves a mark in the sauce, then it’s thickened enough. You may want it thinner, if you are going to add other ingredients later, or thicker to have a more typical tomato sauce.
The last step, once you have your desired consistency, is to add back the flesh that you scooped out of the pot earlier. Bring the sauce back to a boil and then turn of the heat and start canning or start eating.
This is the point where I would do the final tasting. If one teaspoon of salt that we added at first isn’t enough for you, add some more. I add a dash of balsamic vinegar just to enhance the taste of the tomatoes too. If you buy tomatoes at the peak of season, your tomato sauce should taste great without requiring so much in the way of herbs and spices.
My secret #000 If we don’t eat now we might be too drunk…