Saturday, April 6, 2013

Slow Cooked Tomato Sauce

When I think of preserving tomatoes, I always come back to the idea of sauce. I imagine an extended Italian family gathered together to cook down tomatoes, tell stories, sing songs and crack bad jokes, the older women wearing frumpy aprons, the young men a little flirtatious, a little cheeky, and everything a bit like the saccharine sugo scene in Looking For Alibrandi . But that’s not my reality, nor, I suspect, that of many Italian sauce-makers). I’m not Italian, I don’t have a big vat bubbling away with tomatoes or family and friends who seem interested in making an event of sauce making, and I’m not even sure I want it. I’m happy with just me and the kids fooling around in our kitchen, making small batches of sauce when we feel like it.

So I don’t make big batches. Instead, I preserve whole tomatoes; then, if I feel like a slow cooked tomato sauce later in the year, I use the bottled tomatoes to make a batch. But I do buy 15kg boxes of tomatoes for preserving. A 15kg box of tomatoes yields 24 Fowlers Vacola #20 jars of plum tomatoes, plus 2 to 2 ½ kilos of tomatoes left over. It’s not enough to bother bottling and running the processor again, but it’s a good amount to make sauce in a frying pan. Two kilos of fresh tomatoes cooks down to about a litre of sauce – enough for two meals in our family: one for dinner, and one in the freezer for some time next week.

Note: You will need to use a food mill or do some serious work with a sieve for this recipe.

Slow Cooked Tomato Sauce

- 2 to 2 ½ kg ripe Roma tomatoes (the sauce is all about the tomatoes, so ensure they are ripe to begin with – and Roma, or sauce, tomatoes make the best sauce, surprise surprise, because they have lots of flesh and very little juice or seeds)
- 1 red onion
- olive oil
- rosemary (or if you prefer, thyme or basil)
- salt

Warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a wide deep frying pan over low heat. Peel the onion and halve it lengthwise. Slice it into very thin half moons. Drop the onion in the pan and sprinkle it with a good pinch of salt. Cook it for a few minutes, or until it softens, but do not let it colour.

Take a sprig of rosemary a couple of inches long. Strip the needles from the stem and chop them very finely. Add them to the pan.

Quarter the tomatoes – no need to peel or core – and throw them in the pan. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring from time to time to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. The tomatoes will collapse and the skins will loosen. Keep cooking for two to two and a half hours, or until most of the moisture has disappeared.

Remove from the heat. Scrape the tomato mixture into a food mill and press through. (Or rub it through a sieve, much harder work!) You will be left with a rich red sauce; discard the skins. Test the sauce. If it is thick enough, well and good; otherwise, return it to the pan and cook down until it is the consistency you long for. Half a batch is enough for a packet of pasta for our family – but if you like your pasta to swim in the sauce, use the entire batch! Serve with grated parmesan.

Notes: Of course, you can also make this sauce with two or three Fowlers Vacola #20 bottles of whole tomatoes. Because the tomatoes have been processed, you can reduce the cooking time: first check the thickness at 1 hour, and then cook until it's as you like it.

This sauce is also good as a pizza topper, and it freezes well. It is not, however, suitable for preserving via the Fowlers Vacola system as the addition of onions can lower the acidity to a point where little nasty microbes are able to breed.

If you want to see how real Italian Australians make sauce, click here. 34 boxes of tomatoes? Eight hours of boiling? Very impressive – but not my cup of tea! And I see that a neighbour and fellow blogger just posted on her never-to-be repeated childhood experience of sauce; now she opts for small batches, too.

(Backyard: rosemary. Grampians: olive oil. Local veg box: onion. Northern Victoria: tomatoes, salt.)

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