The Sauce, Now Even Better ...
Every year, we make sauce.
Mom and I procure some amount of plum tomatoes – somewhat easily had at this time of year, and this year, we procured a bushel, in an honest-to-God bushel – and then we procure the rest of the ingredients and then, when we're both feeling ambitious, we convene to make sauce.
The division of labor is as follows: I dice tomatoes. Mom does everything else.
Lest you think that I'm getting off easy, allow me to assure you that I do not.
Have you seen a bushel of tomatoes?! That's a freakin' lot of tomatoes!
There are always a few tomato casualties, tomatoes that are far past their prime. But for the most part, I don't have to trim up most of the tomatoes, and so today, I diced the entire bushel's worth and we made half of the sauce that we will eventually make. But now all of the tomatoes are diced, and handily portioned into ginormous Ziploc bags, so the rest of the process will be easy, as the recipe is a snap and all Mom will have to do is dice onion and press garlic and measure out the other stuff.
When all was said and done, I diced enough to total 96 cups of tomatoes, which doesn't sound like that much, considering that dice tomatoes was all I did for most of the afternoon.
But it's nice to do once a year and Mom has a commercial freezer, so she stashes the tidy pints and lets the flavors meld over time and then, in the middle of winter when the closest thing to nature is a twig sticking out of the snow, she can pull out a couple of pints and boil some pasta or simmer down a couple of pints to use as pizza sauce or defrost a few pints as a base for soup. (Me, I'm perfectly happy to pile in meatballs and an embarrassment of Parmesan cheese and stir it all up and dig in. I don't miss the pasta.)
It really is delightful stuff. And simple. So if you have a lot of tomatoes on hand and you're stumped for an idea, give this a try.
Beth Note: The recipe below is for a single batch of sauce, but we always double each recipe and adjust accordingly. So the first amount is for a single batch and (the amounts in parentheses) are our tweaks and substitutions for a double recipe.
1 cup chopped yellow onion (2 cups)
2 tablespoons butter (3 tablespoons)
5 cloves garlic, pressed (1 head garlic; there is no such thing as too much garlic)
12 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (24 cups; we use plum tomatoes)
2 cups dry red wine (1 bottle; the recipe as written calls for Burgundy, but somewhere along the way, we started using Chianti, so now we use Chianti)
12 ounces tomato paste (Yep, the recipe for a single batch calls for 12 ounces of tomato paste. Mom and I both think that's nuts. Twelve ounces for a double batch is perfect, so: 12 ounces)
2 teaspoons instant beef bouillon granules (5 teaspoons beef base)
4 teaspoons dried basil (6 teaspoons dried basil; rub it between your palms to crush it)
2 bay leaves (4 bay leaves)
8 ounces sliced mushrooms (16 ounces; we buy prewashed, sliced mushrooms; save yourself the effort)
Improvement for 2014: If you have some Parmesan rinds in the freezer – and you should; don't throw them away! – toss a couple in to simmer with the sauce. Oh, yeah, that's a good idea.
Saute the onion in butter until translucent. (We use 16-quart stock pots just to give ourselves plenty of room to stir and to allow a nice amount of surface area for simmering.) Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes in batches, giving yourself a chance to incorporate them with the onions and garlic. If you dump in 24 cups of tomatoes at once, it's trickier to get everything stirred together.) Add everything else. Simmer about 1 hour. Then sprinkle with a bit of baking soda and stir. (It's rather atomic!) Continue cooking for 10 minutes. Ladle into freezer containers (you can buy sleeves of 'em at food-service stores for just a few bucks). Be sure to leave a bit of room for expansion. Top with lids and stash in the freezer. Makes about eight pints. (Or 15-ish pints when doubled.)