Making homemade pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes sounds complicated but it is easier that it sounds and makes a very healthy and delicious sauce that can be kept in the freezer for use during those cold winter months.
It REALLY helps to have a Kitchen Aid Mixer with a food mill attachment for skinning/seeding and pureeing the tomatoes but, if you don’t own a mixer, you can use a hand mill (and hand milling will give you a great upper-body work out).
It also helps to have a crock pot to truly slow simmer the sauce so that you don’t have to babysit the sauce on the stove all day but you can use the stove if you watch carefully and stir frequently.
I have tried several methods for pureeing our tomatoes over the past years and think that this is the best and most efficient so here it is:
1)Wash and remove the top spots (where the stem was attached) from about 10 lbs. of fresh, ripe tomatoes (a mellon baller tool works great for this step).
2) Working over a large bowl to catch the seed mess, reach into each tomato and, as you rip it in half (yes, you will get tomato guts all over your hands with this step), slough out and discard the seedy parts of each one. Don’t be too fussy about removing all the seeds-the food mill will separate out any strays. Keep in mind that your main goal is to be left with mostly the fleshy parts of the tomato since the juice and the jell around the seeds just makes for watery sauce.
3) Take the stemmed/seeded tomatoes and run them through your food mill, catching the puree in a clean bowl. This is when you will LOVE your Kitchen Aid mixer if you have one and tone those arms if you don’t. Discard the skin waste and transfer the puree into your crock pot or cooking pot to start making the sauce.
To make your sauce you will need:
The puree from about 10 lbs of tomatoes placed in either a crock pot or a large soup pan
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-1 large onion, diced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-Bouquet garni of fresh rosemary, oregano,thyme and sage (i.e sprigs of each herb tied into a little bundle with cooking twine)
or 2 Tablespoons of “Italian Seasoning”
-2 teaspoons dried basil
-salt to taste (I use about 1 teaspoon)
-dash of pepper
-1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
-1/4 cup brown sugar
-1/4 cup cream sherry (optional but adds a nice richness to the flavor)
In a small frying pan, lightly sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the onion mixture to the puree and then add the spices. Simmer on a very low heat for 5-6 hours, stirring occasionally so that the sauce does not burn but thickens nicely. About 1/2 hour before shutting it off, remove the bouquet garni and stir in the sugar and the sherry.
Some seasons (usually when we have had a lot of rain) the tomatoes have a higher water content and I find it best to add a small can of tomato paste in the last 1/2 hour to thicken the sauce but this is usually not necessary. When I do need to add paste, I am careful to choose a brand that only contains tomatoes (beware-some brands now have high fructose corn syrup in them).
Thanks to the suggestion of one of our CSA customers, I freeze meal size portions of the sauce in quart-sized ziplock freezer bags-this way the sauce takes up very little freezer space and keeps ice crystal free. Another tip to reduce icing is to cool the bags in the fridge before placing them in the freezer.