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What to do with all those ripe tomatoes, part three. August 13, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
Tags: , ,

Silence Dogood here. Today, let’s talk about making tomato sauce. Let’s talk about making a lot of tomato sauce. Let’s talk about canning tomato sauce. You want to use all those tomatoes that are pouring in from your garden, CSA and/or farmers’ market, don’t you?!

I’m talking about simple canning in a water-bath canner here, not pressure-canning, and that means thinking of sauce in a different way. You may typically put browned ground beef in your tomato sauce. I put lots of zucchini and mushrooms in mine to add thickness (the cooked-down zukes) and flavor (the mushrooms). But when you’re water-bath canning, you don’t want to add any of that stuff to the sauce, no matter what Grandma may have done. People may choose to have their faces stuck full of botulism—how sick is that?!!—for vanity’s sake, but trust me, you don’t want to eat botulism spores in your food, unless you want to end up with a lot more than your wrinkles being paralyzed. (And unlike Botox, botulism-induced paralysis is forever.) Better safe than sorry!

So you have two choices: If you have a pressure canner, you can choose to pressure-can your sauce, in which case, you can make it just as you always do. Or you can do what I do: Make a basic sauce (here’s a horrid pun, since it actually has to be acidic, not basic, but try to ignore that), then add your browned beef or whatever when it’s time to use those jars of sauce. I’ll pull down a couple of jars of home-canned sauce, then saute onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and sliced, quartered zucchini in olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven and add the sauce when the veggies have cooked down.

Continue to cook the sauce until the desired texture has been reached, adding water and/or veggie stock as needed to prevent burning until those %$#@!! zucchini slices have turned into thickener and are no longer recognizable as the pointless, tasteless, nutritionless objects they really are. (Actually, they’re great for adding body to vegetarian spaghetti sauce in lieu of ground beef, and of course they’re also great in zucchini bread. But that’s as far as it goes.) If you pull out a bag or two of homegrown, frozen zucchini, which already has a softened texture, you’ll be eating sauce in less than half an hour, which sure beats spending bazillion hours standing at the stove preparing from-scratch sauce. And, my, is it good!

Mind you, you can eat the sauce just as it comes from your jars (heated first, though, please). I just like a thick sauce with a lot of body. And while this sauce is definitely thick and luscious, it doesn’t have the body that ground beef and/or zukes and mushrooms will give it. I enjoy the extra crunch of the freshly sauteed diced onion and green pepper, too. Try it both ways and see what you think!

But how can I try it when I don’t have a recipe, you ask? Good point. It’s coming, I promise, but first, I have to talk about prepping the tomatoes. I got this tomato sauce recipe from Aimee Good, who co-owns my local CSA, Quiet Creek Farm, with her husband John. Aimee showed us all a little trick she uses to bring out the flavor of her tomatoes while reducing cooking-down time: She roasts them first. She’ll cut her paste tomatoes in half and place them, cut-side-down, on cookie sheets (they must have a lip) or in large rectangular glass casserole dishes. Then she’ll roast the tomatoes in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees, until the skin gets crinkly and they soften and release their juice. Next, Aimee tranfers the tomatoes with a slotted spoon to her food processor, purees them, and adds them to the stock pot where she’s sauteed the other veggies for the sauce. The juice left by the roasting process can be saved for soups and stews or discarded. Aimee says this not only reduces the cooking-down process but also intensifies the flavor.

I have no reason to doubt her, but damned if I’m going to all those extra steps. Not to mention that it’s already hot enough in the kitchen with the pots of tomatoes cooking down and the water-bath canner boiling away, without turning on the oven! Instead, I put chopped paste tomatoes in my huge, heavy LeCreuset Dutch ovens, toss the extras in my Crock-Pot, turn it all on, and cook those suckers down. It goes faster than you’d think. And you’ll be amazed how quickly a gargantuan pile of tomatoes turns into a few jars of tomato sauce. Yikes! Make sure you have tons of tomatoes to begin with, so you’re not disappointed by the meager number of pints you end up with. (I just bought a copier-paper-sized box of heirloom paste tomatoes from Jim Weaver’s Meadow View Farm yesterday—I think our friend Ben’s going to post about our expedition to the chile pepper capital of Pennsylvania later today—and suspect I’ll end up with 6 pints of sauce, maybe 8 if I’m lucky.)

Okay, now you have all the details you need (except how to actually do water-bath canning; you’ll need to get the Ball Blue Book of Preserving from your local hardware store, Tractor Supply, Agway, bookstore, or Amazon to learn the details of this simple technique, or ask your local Extension Service for a brochure or online help). It’s time to give you Aimee’s sauce recipe! Try it, it’s yummy. And a great way to use up all those tomatoes! If you want to use Aimee’s technique, roast and puree the tomatoes, then add them to the sauteed veggies. Otherwise, proceed as below:

            Aimee’s Canned Tomato Sauce

1 5-gallon bucket of paste tomatoes

3 medium onions

4-6 cloves garlic

4 sweet red peppers

2 green peppers

2-3 tablespoons salt, to taste

1 cup red wine

large handful fresh basil and oregano

a few dashes of Tabasco sauce

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup lemon juice

Wash and chop tomatoes, then put them in large, heavy Dutch ovens, stock pots, and/or slow cookers (such as a Crock Pot) and cook down on low heat until thick, stirring as needed to prevent sticking. When tomatoes have thickened, chop garlic, onions, and peppers and put them in a large Dutch oven or stockpot with the olive oil, salt, Tabasco sauce, and herbs. Sautee until oinion has clarified. Add the cooked tomatoes and continue cooking until quite thick (Aimee cooks hers until a spoon stands upright in the center of the pot). Add the wine. Adjust seasonings to taste. Finally, add the lemon juice.

Spoon the hot sauce through a funnel into hot, sterilized pint jars, packing it to remove any air spaces or bubbles. Leave 1/2 inch head space in each jar. Put hot, sterilized lids on jars, screw on bands, and process in a boiling-water bath for 45 minutes.

Aimee says this recipe makes 10-11 pints, and that it also freezes well. (She omits the lemon juice if she’s planning to freeze the sauce.) I don’t think I made quite that many pints—maybe I cooked mine down more, or maybe I’ve just forgotten!—but it’s quite delicious, and our friend Ben and I have enjoyed it in spaghetti sauces all year. You will, too!   

        ‘Til next time,



1. Meg - August 13, 2008

I love recipes that call for a small bit of wine–that means we get to buy a whole bottle and drink the rest while we’re cooking.

Ha! I’ve sometimes wondered if one reason I love cooking so much is that when I cook, I pour myself a glass of wine and put on some favorite music. Wine, music, movement, the texture, color, and aroma of the food, the creativity of combining things and watching to see what happens… what’s not to love?!! (Well, maybe our Molly constantly cruising by just in case I have any tomato, pepper, or cheese fragments for her… )

2. MyNetFaves : Web 2.0 Social Bookmarking - August 13, 2008

MyNetFaves : Public Faves Tagged Veggies…

Marked your site as veggies at MyNetFaves!…


3. Rick Mansfield - August 18, 2008

I’ve created a link to this post in the “Recipes” section of our newest “Cast Iron Around the Web” entry at http://www.cookingincastiron.com

Thanks, Rick! I’d be lost without my wonderful LeCreuset cookware. Cast iron rules!!!

4. Susie - August 31, 2008

I had some huge tomatoes that were going to go “south” so I cut out the bad spots and ran them thru my kitchenaid veggie strainer. I now have approx 1 gallon of juice in my fridge.

could someone tell me how to make some good juice out of it? all the recipes I”ve seen so far tell you to cook the tomatoes first THEN run them thru the food mill. I didn’t bother to read up on it before I juiced them.

do I need to cook them with some peppers, celery and salt etc? I plan to use the juice within the next week or so as opposed to canning it or is there a good way to make good juice with the raw juice?

I’d appreciate any input I can get.

Hi Susie! I hope someone who juices tomatoes regularly will come to your rescue. My two cents is that you’d put the tomatoes through an actual juicer raw, so I don’t see why you can’t use the juice you’ve made, especially if you plan to use it fresh within the week. You can always add a little lemon juice if you’re concerned about freshness. I’d assume you could also freeze it in quart freezer cartons or even freezer bags, then add a carton or bag to pasta sauce or use it as a soup stock whenever you needed it. Anyone have other ideas for Susie? Thanks!

5. Niki - September 28, 2010

I have ripe tomatoes from the garden that have ripened. And have run out of ideas of what to prepare with them. I do not nead any more tomatoes sauces or juice. Could there be different ideas of what to make with ripe tomatoes?

Hi Niki! Have you made salsa with your tomatoes yet? I have a ton of recipes on the blog for fresh and canned salsas (use our search bar at upper right to find them), and salsa is so good! Remember, too, that you can can extra salsa and sauce to give as Christmas presents to grateful friends and family. You can make homemade ketchup and tomato butter, too (on the same principle as apple and pumpkin butter). And you can always make tomato paste to use as a base for future pasta and pizza sauces. If you have a food dehydrator, you can dry cherry and paste tomatoes to make “sun-dried tomatoes,” but I wouldn’t try that with normal salad tomatoes; they’re too juicy. You can also barter your tomatoes to gardening friends in exchange for veggies they have a bounty of. One more thought: If you have freezer space, you could cook down or puree your tomatoes and freeze them until you need them. Whatever you do, good luck! If it were me, I’d put up a ton of sauces and salsas, since they keep for years, and there’s nothing like having a jar or two on hand when you need it!

6. canning tomatoes - March 31, 2011

thanks for the instructions on how to make a tomato sauce. This is indeed very helpful.

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