The Paper Chef entries are in and jeez, they look really, really good (not making my job very easy.) They are still under consideration, so stop back in a few days for the results.’
In the meantime, let’s talk about tomatoes. This is the first time I’ve made a good ol’ traditional tomato sauce from scratch. It might be second nature for someone like, oh, Tina, who was raised on the stuff. Seriously, they just put it in her bottle when she was a baby. You should have seen the contracts I had to sign before marrying into her family. All this legalese about hereforthwith honoring and respecting the sauce.
Anyway, Tina has some fond and some not so fond memories of the annual sauce making as a kid. Being the one relegated to chief tomato-washer (there was only one), she woke on the mornings of sauce days with a sense of disappointment – the knowledge of losing her Saturday – and not from a warning the night before, but from the rich smell of the first batch of simmering tomatoes already filling the house. Time to head to the cellar and get scrubbing.
Now, I think the reminisces (new noun, just for me) are mostly happy and she jumped at the chance to take a bushel of tomatoes from her father’s garden this year to make sauce in our kitchen (in the interest of full disclosure, we committed two of our tomatoes to the process as well.)
Our final output was about 12 qts. We decided to freeze it. Her family used to make 10 times that amount, and they would be canned and processed. The scale of the operation was clearly different but the tools were the same. We inherited the food mill with the same ancient wood-handled corer and a butter knife in the box that Tina remembered from 20 years ago, used then and now to clean out the skins and seeds from the mill’s “exhaust.”
The operation itself was carried out according to the plans that were laid out (I was legally prevented from any alterations, and in hindsight, I can assure you I doesn’t need any.)
I have to say – and this is coming from someone who is admittedly not a huge fan of the “red sauce” and spaghetti and meatballs – this stuff is fantastic. It’s an extremely flavorful, lightly seasoned, not-too-thick wondrous tomato concoction that would be great for sauce, soup, braising, stews and baths.
Here we go:
1) Get some tomatoes – these were not “sauce” tomatos, typically Romas. These were a mix of plain old round tomatoes with some beefsteaky-heirloom big ugly mothers thrown in too. Much juicier than normal – but homegrown, that’s the important piece of information here..
2) Wash them there tomatoes. The easiest way – fill up the sink, let them soak, pick one out and get to work.
3) Use a coring implement, or other spoon/knife type device to scoop out the core from the top
4) Just soaking…
5) A batch that has been washed and cored. We had three of us working (well two adults, one kindergartner). It worked well with someone continuing to wash and core while we got some of the tomatoes moved on to the next step.
6) Quarter the tomatoes (with a glove if you have cut) and collect them in a bowl.
7) Behold the juice!
8) On the stove, over medium/high heat, with a little water in the bottom of the pan to prevent burning. Get them to a nice simmer, and stir every so often. The goal is to soften them up and release some more juice.
9) Once they were cooked down, we dumped them into a strainer and got some of the liquid out. I’m not sure how much – we may have retained more than it needed.
This is what they looked like right before they met their destiny.
10) This was their destiny.
11) The food mil in operation…What a fantastic machine. The tomatoes go in the top, You turn the crank, it turns an auger that’s spring-loaded inside of a perforated tube. The junk that doesn’t fit through the perforations (the skin and seeds) comes out the end of the auger. The juice and pulp come out of the perforations and down a separate chute.
Molly had a blast pulling out the skins and seeds.
12) Providing some motivation for the tomatoes…
13) The mill in action…
14) Once you’ve collected a big batch of skins and seeds, send them through again – lots of juice and pulp still hiding in there.
15) The amazing powers of a pot of sauce. Well, it’s not sauce yet. Got all the collected pulp and juice back on the stove over medium low and let it hang out for awhile. It cooked down a bit and thickened up. I suppose you could let it cook all day if you want. Ours ended up on the stove for a hour or two.
16) Time for some flavor. Big pile of basil with some parsley from the garden.
17) Lots of olive oil, chopped onions, 2 heads of garlic and salt. Cooked for a few minutes to soften. Added the basil, stirred it up and ran it through the food processor until it was pretty smooth.
18) Back on the stove. Cooked it for a few minutes over medium – it was bubbling lightly. You know you always wanted to make some green lava.
19) Pesto up close
20) Finally, we stirred the pesto into the sauce, added salt and a little sugar to taste, cooked for a little while longer and that was it. Let it cool down and got it in some plastic containers for the deep freeze.
The flavor/seasonings are not overwhelming. It’s still mostly tomato and can be customized for whatever you want to use it for. So far we’ve done two things – last weekend when we made it, we immediately poached/fried a few eggs in a pan of it for dinner. With some bread to sop up the sauce, it was ridiculously good.
Yesterday we had some fish stew in it. To bring this post full circle, it was similar to my Paper Chef 31 dish, but with halibut that our friend D.G. brought back from Alaska (he caught it when he wasn’t busy riding a motorcycle around the wilderness). Outstanding!
We now have 12 quarts of summer, caught, bottled and preserved for when we’ll need it most…
Buffalo, mid-February, it’s been snowing for a week. We’ve considered burning the TV for heat and Tina is walking around the house with 3 pairs of socks on and is wrapped in blankets like a mummy from Pottery Barn.