Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Basic tomato sauce

I can't believe so many people are still buying tomato sauce in jars from the store.  Take a look at that ingredient list next time and you'll find sugar, cornstarch, preservatives, bleck!

There are still tomatoes being sold at the market here, but at the tail-end of the season they lack the juicy sweetness of the July-August crop.   Putting tomatoes in the fridge is the worst thing you can do, as cold temperatures destroy a compound that accounts for a lot of their flavor; the same thing happens to October tomatoes on the vine.  The chilled fruits aren't spectacular in a sandwich or salad, but cooking them helps to bring back some of their character.

If you don't have access to fresh, locally-grown tomatoes, opt for canned tomatoes that have no additives (the ingredient list should just say "tomatoes").

Tomato sauce

1 lb fresh tomatoes (or one 16oz can of peeled tomatoes in their juice)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 branch of celery
1 large onion
2 small shallots
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh basil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Using a serrated knife, cut an X across the base of each tomato.

Plunge the tomatoes and the garlic clove into the pot and boil for about 45 seconds. Drain and allow to cool.

Peel the garlic clove; the skin should slip off easily thanks to the bath in boiling water.  Slice the shallots in half lengthwise and remove their papery skins.  Slice the base and top off of the onion and peel.  Coarsely chop the onion, shallots and celery.  Finely chop the garlic separately.

Peel the skins off of the tomatoes, starting at the little X.  They should just slip right off.  Doing this over a bowl allows you to save the juice.

Place the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the onion, shallot and celery.  Stir for one minute and then turn the heat down to medium low.  Cook until translucent but not browned (about 5 minutes).

Add the tomatoes and garlic to the pan and stir.  If your tomatoes are not very juicy, you might want to add a few spoonfuls of water to avoid burning.  Add the bay leaf and basil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Allow to simmer over medium low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the bits of celery and onion are completely mushy.

Allow to cool slightly before removing the bay leaf and blending well with a stick blender.

Serve over pasta and/or vegetables.

To use this sauce for pizza, cook a little longer, uncovered, so that it thickens up, or just add a tablespoon of tomato paste (again: choose the kind with no added ingredients!)

I don't need to tell you that this recipe is far from an exact science.  Play around with the quantities, add red pepper flakes, thyme, olives...  Another variation: add a leek and an additional onion to the vegetables and cover the entire pan with water when you add the tomatoes...tada!  tomato soup.

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