Thursday 26 September 2013

Saucy September: Tomato Sauce

The healthiest Saucy September entry is sauce tomate or tomato sauce (red sauce for you Australian readers). It may take the longest but it's the one you can have the most fun and be experimental with. Since it's September and tomatoes are in season right now, I'm going to show you how to make it with fresh tomatoes. I only recommend using fresh tomatoes if they are in season. Otherwise, use canned tomatoes. There is nothing wrong with canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes and already peeled and they were picked when they were at their ripest.
If you're using fresh tomatoes, make sure the tomatoes are very ripe, shiny and deep red. The tomatoes need to be peeled, seeded, and diced. The finished diced product is called a concassé (con-cass-say). When using canned tomatoes, you can buy them already diced and that would be your concassé, right there. Otherwise, just dice the canned tomatoes.

Roma tomatoes or vine tomatoes work best for sauce because they have more flesh and less juice. Here I'm only making a small batch for about 2-3 cups of sauce. This is a very, very basic recipe but you can add any aromatics you want like bell pepper, carrot, celery, zucchini, mushrooms, fresh chillies, olives, capers, bay leaf, etc.. etc... For herbs, I'm only using basil here but you can use any combination of basil, thyme, parsley and even oregano works well with tomato sauce.


10-12 ripe tomatoes
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried chili flakes
1-2 tsp sugar
Salt & Pepper

If you are pressed for time or tomatoes are not in season, use two 800ml (28 oz) cans of tomatoes. If you are using fresh tomatoes, you'll want to skin and deseed them first. Here's what I do....


Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil (no salt necessary). Have also a large bowl set aside full of cold water and ice to keep it cold. Using a paring knife, carve out the inedible part where the vine was attached at one end and score a small 'X' into the opposite end of each tomato. In batches, plunge your tomatoes into the boiling water. It will only take about 30-60 seconds for the skins to release. Afterward, plunge them into the ice bath to shock them and stop cooking. Repeat with the rest of your tomatoes.

The tomato skins should peel off with very little or no effort at all. Careful though, they will be a little slippery after they've been skinned. 

Once your tomatoes are all skinned, it's time to remove the seeds. Slice each tomato in half. All you want is the fleshy part of the tomato, so the seeds and water trapped inside can be discarded. You could use a spoon for this but I find it takes too long. I just wash my hands and use my fingers. It's a little messy but a lot quicker and it's a satisfying kind of feeling that only foodies will understand. If you don't get every last seed or every last drop of water out, don't sweat it. 

Now you have a whole bunch of skinned and seeded tomatoes. Now all you need to do is dice them up for your concassé. Don't think you need superior knife skills for this. You're going to cook down your concassé anyway so everything is going to break down and disintegrate. Besides, a tomato sauce should be a little rustic.

Now that you have your tomato concassé (or canned, diced tomatoes) it's time to get started. Over medium-high heat sweat your onion for a few minutes in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to help draw out the water and add flavour. 

As soon as the onions think of changing colour, add the garlic and the chili flakes. Stir for a couple more minutes. Be careful because garlic burns easily and burnt garlic will ruin your sauce. A couple of minutes should be fine. 

Now it's time to add the concassé. Because there is so much liquid left in the tomatoes, it will immediately stop the frying process. Give everything in the pot a good stir and let it come to a gentle boil.

Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer, uncovered for 90 minutes to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Over time everything will break down into a thick, luxurious sauce. 

When you're happy with the consistency of the sauce, finely chop the fresh basil and stir it in. At this point I would also recommend adding a tsp or 2 of sugar. Not enough to sweeten the sauce. Just enough to balance some of the natural acidity of the sauce (especially if you used canned tomatoes). Then let it cook for another five minutes.

Before you jar up your sauce, remember to taste and adjust your seasoning. Does it need more salt, pepper, basil, chili, etc..? Personally, I prefer my tomato sauce really chunky like it is at this stage. If you prefer your sauce to be very smooth then blend it while still warm in batches as not to burn yourself. If you want it a bit smoother but not completely smooth, then blend only some of i and mix it back in. Depending on the size of your tomatoes, onion and any other vegetables you may have added, the sauce may appear more orange than red. If that's an issue, you can also add a bit of tomato paste and stir it in while still on the heat. That will add a more concentrated tomato flavour and redden the hue.

Boom! Now you have your own homemade tomato sauce just begging to be used in pastas, pizza, cabbage rolls, fried polenta, etc... 


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