Tomatoes, lovely tomatoes! My poor little garden pumped out some amazing tomatoes this summer. In fact, there are still some on the vine. It’s getting cooler here in Billings, but I’m hoping the lovely red fruits will survive another few weeks.
I managed to pick about five pounds of tomatoes a few days ago, and turned them into the most luscious marinara. I found several recipes, and combined little bits of them that appealed to me. And I used fresh herbs harvested from the garden as well. It doesn’t get any better than that.
There weren’t enough of the tomatoes I picked to can large batches of sauce, which is the way I planned it. I didn’t want the job to be so overwhelming that I wouldn’t look forward to the same thing next year. Also, I didn’t blanch the tomatoes to peel off the tomato skins. I just used a paring knife and skinned them that way. Wouldn’t recommend this method for a large canning batch, but it was easier than waiting for a large pot of water to boil, finding a large bowl for ice water, and all of that. For the amount of tomatoes I used, probably took me as long as blanching.
Once peeled, I cut the tomatoes into quarters to remove the seeds. Set them aside until ready for the stockpot. Now, here’s another little time consuming task. An old friend of mine, whose family canned tomatoes in quantities to rival Hunt’s, gave me a food mill many years ago. So much easier than my technique, but I can’t find the food mill. I know it’s around here somewhere . . . Anyway, if you’ve never used a food mill before, you cook the tomatoes, skin and all, down a bit, and run them through the mill. This handy utensil removes the skin and seeds. Anne Burrell who hosts Secrets of a Restaurant Chef declares it’s her favorite kitchen utensil, and she uses it a lot.
OK – here we go.
Any vegetables that need to be diced and then added in rapid succession to the pot get diced first. I’ve already diced the onion. Here is the garlic, carrot, and celery to be added just as soon as the onion and garlic are finished browning.
In a large stock pot over medium heat, pour 1/4 cup of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the diced onion, and cook until transparent. About 5-7 minutes. Add the minced garlic, and cook for another minute or two.
Add carrots and celery, and stir so everything is coated. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until the carrots and celery are softened.
Put the fennel seed, bay leaves, and crushed red pepper into the pot to join their little friends. Stir the spices around. When you begin to smell the spices, just a minute or so, add the peeled, seeded tomatoes.
Just like this!
Add salt, pepper, and sugar. Stir everything together. By this time, the tomatoes should begin to give off their juices. As the temperature comes up on the tomatoes, the more liquid you’ll have.
I lived in Youngstown, Ohio, a long time ago, and remember observing a debate once about whether or not to add sugar to marinara sauce. One half of the room believed it essential to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. The other half thought it ruined the flavor of the sauce. I did add about 1 teaspoon to this batch. I can’t think it hurt anything, A couple of recipes I found online said the carrot cut the acid, because carrots are naturally sweet, but one added it minced, and another grated one half and threw in the other in tact half to be removed when the sauce was finished. Everyone has their own thing, which makes every recipe even for the same finished product unique.
Next, I put in the basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley. Unfortunately, no fresh basil – mine bit the dust during the annual summer drought, when I was away visiting grandchildren. So, dried oregano and basil it is. Stir it around again, and let the marinara gently simmer for an hour.
Again from the Anne Burrell school of thought: I made her bolognese sauce once. It was rich and delicious. Anne’s secret for a flavorful sauce is to add a cup or so of water as the juice evaporates. Her theory is as the water evaporates, the flavors build and intensify. Anne also cooks her bolognese for hours, so I imagine the water helped to keep the sauce from scorching the bottom. But, what the heck? I added a cup of water after an hour, and kept simmering for another 45 minutes. I don’t know if the water made any difference, but I felt enlightened.
Note: If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, use a couple of 28 oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes, and half the recipe.
Once the sauce finished cooking, I let it cool down a bit, and got out my trusty stick blender. No pics of this step, as marinara was flying all over me, the stove, the floor, and the walls. May rethink this next time, and put half the sauce in a regular blender and add it back.
Isn’t it gorgeous? This is the same sauce I used for Rigatoni alla Vodka.
- 5 pounds of fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 very large or 2 large onions, diced
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
- 4 sprigs of fresh parsley, or 2 teaspoons dried
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 2 bay leaves
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seed
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Heat a large stock pot over medium heat. Add olive oil. When the pot is hot, add the diced onion. Cook onion until translucent, 5-7 minutes.
- Add the carrot and celery to the pot. Sitr and cook until softened.
- Add the bay leaves, crushed red pepper, and fennel seed. Stir until just fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar (if using), basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley.
- Stir everything together. If using fresh tomatoes, they should be releasing their juices.
- Bring the tomatoes to a gentle simmer, reduce heat, and continue cooking for 1 hour. Stir the sauce periodically to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. If you wish, you can add one cup of water, after an hour, and continue to cook for another 45 minutes.
- Allow the sauce to cool. Use a stick blender to break down some of the vegetables and larger tomato pieces. Or put half the sauce in a regular blender for a few seconds, and add back to the sauce. The marinara will be somewhat chunky.
- This recipe makes 2 quarts of sauce, and may be frozen.