Monday, April 18, 2011

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce - made April 15, 2011 from Cooking for One by Mark Erickson, CMC and Lisa Erickson (book #89)

You have to know me really well to understand what an epic accomplishment this was for me.  I've already alluded to the fact that I don't really cook. It's usually a major undertaking for me, at least in my head.  I also don't like most vegetables.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the veggies I normally eat and I can only count that many if you let me include french fries (for the people who say potatoes are not a vegetable but a starch....I can't hear you).  Add to that, when I do cook, I reach for the most convenient things to make.  Pasta is one of them as even I can boil water and noodles at the same time.  When it comes to sauce, the easiest thing for me to do is reach for a jar of pasta sauce or those dry spaghetti mixes where you add tomato sauce and water plus some ground beef and call it sauce.  My friend Emily tells me her Italian grandmother would roll over in her grave at what I do.  She even offered to come over one day and teach me how to make real pasta sauce.  Thanks, Em.

That's my lead in to say even some of us old dogs can be taught new tricks.  It started when a friend sent me this cookbook and asked if I would do a book review of it.  It was written by two graduates from the Culinary Institute of America and she wanted my take on it as a CIA grad myself, albeit my certification was from the Baking & Pastry Arts program and I had nothing to do with the "hot side" and I only did 8 months for the certificate, not 2 years for the AA degree.  Plus, I'm just not much of a cook.  But I'm willing to try anything once and agreed to take a stab at it.  The recipe I chose called for homemade tomato sauce as the base and the recipe for that was also in the book.  Honestly, you can't know how much I just wanted to buy a can of Del Monte and be done with that part of it.  But that seemed like cheating and I had promised to break out of my non-cooking comfort zone so I went for making tomato sauce from scratch.

The "before" pic of the tomatoes before roasting
I bought the tomatoes from Trader Joe's as well as all the other ingredients one day and made the recipe the next day (it's already a "production" when I have to spread it out to more than a day).  When Emily found out what I was doing, she instructed me to call her on her cell phone in case I ran into any problems.  That's more context setting for you on how cooking-challenged I am.  This whole lead-in is going to be anti-climactic though because I have to tell was the easiest thing in the world.  Wash the stuff, cut it up, roast in the oven for an hour and fifteen minutes, stir every now and then, take out, let cool, then puree in the food processor.  Who knew making tomato sauce was so easy??  What the heck did I find so intimidating about it?  I can make real tomato sauce from honest-to-goodness tomatoes!  Woot!  I was on a culinary high.  Real chefs can laugh at me but that's fine.  It is laughable.

Someday, this will hopefully yield tomatoes
Two major lessons I learned:
1) real tomato sauce isn't as red as the Del Monte and Hunt canned versions or jarred Ragu version.  It's a sad statement that I wondered if anything was "wrong" with my tomato sauce that it wasn't as red as the processed version.  Then I realized my tomato sauce was pretty much the color of the tomatoes I started with because I didn't add any red dye or other artificial ingredients.  That's how it's supposed to look before it gets interfered with for mass production.  Just like real mac and cheese with real cheddar cheese isn't supposed to be the color of Cheetos.  Who knew?

2) I really need to stop building up stuff in my head as "too hard" or "I can't do it".  I can't believe I spent so much time thinking about this when, once I actually did it, there was nothing to it.  Nike got it right with their slogan: Just Do It.  I would also add, "it ain't that hard".

I was on such a high from the whole making-tomato-sauce-is-so-easy that the next day, I went to Home Depot and bought some tomato plants.  Yep.  I'm going to try growing my own tomatoes so I can keep making my own tomato sauce.  If you've been reading my blog, you also know that's another epic moment.  The non-gardener and non-veggie eater is going to grow a vegetable.  Yeah, I know tomatoes are technically/scientifically a fruit but don't kill my buzz.  Tomatoes go in the veggie category for me.  I don't eat whole tomatoes as is but I do like tomato-based pasta sauces and that's what I'm growing them for.  I also bought and planted some basil - pesto sauce in my future.....

Sweet Basil - pesto sauce in the making

2 lbs cored and quartered tomatoes
½ onion, peeled and sliced (about 4 ozs)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 basil leaves, optional
Salt and freshly ground pepper, as needed
Pinch of sugar, optional

1.      Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Toss the tomatoes, onion, garlic and olive oil together in an 8 x 13” roasting pan.  Roast, uncovered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to break up the tomatoes.  Add the basil leaves, if using.  Roast for another 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.  Some of the vegetables will be browned in spots, which adds a nice, rich flavor.
2.      Pass the vegetables through a food mill or process them in a food processor until pureed, then strain through a medium sieve, pressing on the solids, to remove the skin and seeds.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar if the sauce seems too acidic.
3.      Heat the sauce over low heat and combine with cooked pasta, or store the sauce in jars in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in freezer containers for up to 6 months.

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