When I research recipes for preserving food, I find so many refined options. And by refined, I mean complicated. They call for a long list of ingredients and a zillion steps. While I appreciate that these exist, and that people exist who like to make them (people that I wish would feed me their delicious creations), I’m just not that kind of cook. I like to take 50 lbs of tomatoes and turn it into 10 quarts of sauce in 2 hours.
I believe that these complex recipes overwhelm many people, making them feel like they couldn’t possibly put up cans of food worth eating. To those people, I have some refreshing news: NONE OF THAT COMPLEXITY MATTERS. Sure, you still have to follow the rules to safely preserve the food, but what’s inside those jars doesn’t have to take hours to prepare.
Ingredient lists are suggestions at best. I’m the queen of omissions and substitutions. For canning you need to make sure that your acid content is right, but otherwise, pretty much nothing matters.
If you look up recipes for tomato sauce right now, you’ll mostly find people telling you to core the tomatoes, finely chop them, continually mash the hell out of them while they boil, and then de-seed and skin them by pressing them through a fine mesh sieve. Um, what? No.
Here’s how I make my tomato sauce, and it is not any way inferior to those more complex recipes. In fact, it might even be better. Plus, you get way more volume since you aren’t removing all the seeds and skins.
A lug of tomatoes (about 30 lbs) from the “fruit group,” a local set-up that sells almost-totally-organic fruit and tomatoes at wholesale prices every week throughout the summer. This box cost me $20.
Easy Tomato Sauce
- Tomatoes! As many as you have, whatever kind you have (saucing/paste tomatoes will have less water and will take less time to cook)
- Herbs! Whatever you have on hand (fresh or dried oregano, basil, rosemary, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper)
- If canning, lemon juice or citric acid
Wash your tomatoes and cut them in half. Or don’t; whatever. If you have particularly juicy tomatoes, you can squeeze out some of their guts. Put them into a food processor or blender. That’s right – raw tomatoes, skins and seeds and all. I don’t core them or even cut off the stem scars.
Add garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and herbs if you want them incorporated. Blend to your heart’s desire, leaving it as chunky or getting it as smooth as you want.
NOTE: Too much garlic can affect the pH, so use no more than 2 whole cloves per blender.
Depending on how many tomatoes you have, you will probably have to do this in several rounds. Dump the blended sauce into a large pot (the wider the better; more surface area is good) and turn the heat to medium. If you don’t want your herbs blended, add them now.
Bring the sauce to a boil and then turn it down to a strong simmer. Give it a good stir and cover it with a splatter guard, but NOT a lid. You’re cooking your sauce down. It’s very important that you don’t stir the sauce too much, or else you’ll just mix all the water that rose to the surface back into the sauce.
Stir occasionally to make sure the bottom isn’t burning (it won’t if you have it at a true simmer), maybe once every 10 or 15 minutes. How long your sauce has to cook will depend on how much water your tomatoes had and how thick you like it; 25 lbs usually takes me about an hour. I leave mine on the watery side, knowing I’ll cook it down a little more when I open the jar. If you’re doing a LOT of sauce, you can pour it in one blender at a time, let it cook down, then pour more in on top.
Meanwhile, prepare some pint and/or quart jars. I like to put whole sprigs of rosemary and/or basil in mine.
Taste your sauce; add more herbs or spices if you want to. Once your sauce is tasting just how you want it, ladle it into the clean jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.
You can freeze this now and be done, or you can process it in a waterbath to be shelf-stable.
If canning, THIS IS THE ONLY TRULY CRUCIAL STEP: you need to make this acidic enough so it won’t breed bacteria. For pints, add 1 TBSP lemon juice or 1/4 TSP citric acid to each jar; for quarts, add 2 TBSP lemon juice or 1/2 TSP citric acid.
Pints need 35 minutes in a waterbath, and quarts need 45. If you aren’t an experienced canner, there are tons of how-to guides out there. I like Ball’s no-nonsense approach.
Although the process itself does take awhile, you can do other things while the sauce cooks down and the jars process.
Even with all those skins and seeds, you end up with gorgeous and tasty tomato sauce. And guess what? It’s more nutritious, too. HOLLER.
A pint of easy tomato sauce with a whole branch of basil.