Do you know that saying about jumping in with both feet?
I did that. Tomatoes have taken over my life this week. And I have lived to tell the tale.
First, a little background. I’ve never made tomato sauce from scratch. No marinara, tomato juice, paste, or anything remotely tomato related, except perhaps observing my hubby make his fresh salsa. However, I go through a crap ton of marinara and diced tomatoes every year; at least a jar a week. Yes, a crap-ton. It’s a real term. You can read about it HERE.
Anyway. My mom and step-dad are big gardeners and actually sell their organic produce at several farmers markets and natural food stores in northern Wisconsin. We are lucky that they usually load us up with goodies when we visit. Two visits ago, they sent us home with a box of tomatoes. Now, I don’t like raw tomatoes. I WISH I did; they are so pretty. Healthy. Delicious-looking. But… something about the taste and texture of raw tomatoes really gets to me. So I knew we had to cook up this huge box of tasty red things. We decided to attempt homemade marinara sauce.
After reading a gazillion articles and recipes on the internet, I finally decided to just give it a shot. I’ve never been a huge recipe follower anyway, and wasn’t sure exactly how many pounds of tomatoes we had. So… I just decided to go for it. First, I read that I had to skin and seed the tomatoes. Basically, you plunge the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute, then place them in ice water. The skin should slip right off. For the most part, it works… it’s just really labor intensive. Then you have to seed the tomatoes; you can cut off the top and squeeze the seeds out or cut them open and scrape out the seeds. Again, it works but takes FOREVER. I spent hours doing it and felt like I was wasting a lot of the pulp that could have been used for sauce. After spending an entire evening doing this, there was no way I was going stay up till 3am making sauce out of my newly skinned and seeded tomatoes. So we froze them for a couple days until I could devote a few hours to making sauce.
In that couple days, I made the executive decision that we needed to buy a food mill/strainer/saucer. I kept hearing how much easier it was to make sauce and bought a Back To Basics Food Strainer. You can find it on Amazon but ours came from a local chain called Farm and Fleet.
When we got it home we eagerly set it up and tested it out on our thawed tomatoes. Fail. Utter failure. The strainer kept gunking up, juice squirted everywhere… even out of the handle! We had mostly only juice coming out of the strainer, no thicker pulp. Honestly, I was ready to bring the thing back because I figured something was wrong. There was so much juice, mess, and frustrated words bouncing around my kitchen that night! But we went ahead with what we had and made 5 quarts of tomato sauce that night.
It tasted goooood. Really good. And it encouraged me to try again. Only this next time, I was determined to find a better way to make sauce.
Sauce, Phase 2:
Remember how I was ready to bring back the food strainer? After a desperate plea for help on the Simply Driftless Facebook page and some Googling to figure out what we did wrong, I didn’t find much. My highly intelligent, engineer-minded husband decided we should try it again but use RAW tomatoes rather than the blanched/seeded/skinner/frozen/thawed version. I was skeptical. After all, I figured that the blanched tomatoes would go through the strainer easier than raw ones.
Let me just say… using fresh tomatoes made a huge difference. Hubby was right. Yes, I’m typing that in this blog for the world to see. 🙂
The strainer actually does what it’s supposed to do – seeds, pulp, and solids go through the waste section. Juice and useable pulp goes to the appropriate place. It WORKED! I’m officially in love with this food strainer. I can’t imagine making sauce without it. It still makes a small mess but it’s easily wiped up with two towels – one for the floor and one for the counter. Great. Big. Puffy. Heart. And this marinara sauce is amazing. Healthy, too. I’m hooked.
We’re now on our third batch of sauce and have definitely picked up a few tricks along the way. 25 quarts of sauce, baby! I’ll share tips and my recipe in “Part 2” of this post.
(Um, please forgive the lack of photos in this post. It slipped my mind during the actual making of the sauce other than the very few I grabbed during the straining step. And now I don’t have any beautiful “before” photos of tomatoes. Oops. I’ll try to get some of the finished product before my next post.)