Saturday, October 25, 2014

From Home-Grown Tomatoes to Home-Made Pasta Sauce

It's surprisingly easy to make a pasta sauce from scratch with home-grown tomatoes.

I am a lazy cook as well as a lazy gardener. So making a pasta sauce from our home-grown tomatoes was a bit intimidating; it sounded like a lot of work.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be pretty easy, and the results were also surprising: it's easily one of the best pasta sauce I've ever tasted, despite the nothing-special quality of our home-grown tomatoes.

A quick Web search pulled up this recipe and instructions from Daniel Gritzer, who made several batches with different types of tomatoes as a taste test: How to Make the Best Tomato Sauce From Fresh Tomatoes.

I found his instructions easy to follow and his explanations thorough. It's far more information than you need to make the sauce, but it's good background for those like me who've never made pasta sauce from whole tomatoes before.

Based on Gritzer's experiments, I felt confident that the type of tomato didn't make much difference.

Gardeners are almost obligated to rave about the wonderful quality of their home-grown produce, but quite frankly, these tomatoes were beautiful and nutritious (we use lots of different kinds of compost in our garden) but not that great in terms of taste or texture. Perhaps due to the clay soil and limited sunlight of our urban garden, our cherry tomatoes taste much better than larger varieties.

Here are the tomatoes I harvested from our garden. I'm not sure of the variety, though I know the organic seeds came from my primary source,Everlasting Seeds.

There are undoubtedly heirloom tomatoes optimized for clay soil and limited sunlight, but I haven't run across any yet. But setting aside quibbles of taste/texture, aren't these gloriously ripe tomatoes?

First step: chop the tomatoes into chunks. Nothing fancy here:

Stew the tomato chunks for 10 minutes over relatively high heat. The idea is to soften the chunks but not turn them into mush.

Put the stewed tomato chunks through a food mill. This is a very forgiving process; just push the chunks under the food mill blade and grind away. Once all the pulp has been squeezed through, what's left is the seeds and a bit of skin.

Dice the garlic and onions. Gritzer did a second taste test, between adding the raw onion and garlic to the fresh tomato sauce and sauteing the onion and garlic first before adding them to the sauce. His testers preferred the sauce with the sauteed onions.

Saute the onions and garlic while the sauce simmers (to reduce/thicken it a bit). If you want to add mushrooms or other veggies (or meat), do so after the garlic and onions have softened and been added to the sauce along with the herbs and seasonings.

The finished sauce. I didn't time the entire process carefully, but it took about an hour. Given the excellent results and the quantity of sauce (enough for multiple meals for multiple people), this seems like a worthwhile investment of time and energy.

This strikes me as one of those meals (home-made pasta sauce from real tomatoes, wow!) that will impress others while actually being a very simple and forgiving process with palate-pleasing results.

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