How to make spaghetti sauce out of whole tomatoes
used to hate spaghetti night when I was a kid. My parents made
the sauce from scratch, and the result was both watery and chunky ---
pretty much par for the course with homemade tomato sauces. When
I was finally introduced to storebought spaghetti sauce, I fell in
love. Three years of trial and error later, I finally figured out
how to make a full-bodied tomato sauce with homegrown tomatoes that
tastes even better than the stuff in the jar and is just as good for
you as the kind my parents made.
with roma tomatoes.
There are two main types of tomatoes when it comes to cooking --- romas
and everything else. Roma tomatoes have less water and more flesh
than any other kind of tomato, and they also tend to have few enough
seeds that I make my sauces with skins and seeds in. It's okay to
include some extra slicers and tommy-toes as long as the romas
overpower their wateriness and seediness.
Get out your biggest skillet. The trick to making a
spaghetti sauce that turns out creamy and not watery is to let the
pectin in the tomatoes do its magic --- you're basically making
tomato jam. To that end, you're in a race against the naturally
occurring enzymes that start to break down the pectin in your tomato as
soon as the flesh is cut. The enzymes are activated by air and
then denatured (made inactive) by heat, so you need to keep your
tomatoes intact until the last minute, then heat the whole mass of
tomatoes up as fast as possible. Thus the skillet --- more
surface area on the burner means your sauce comes to a boil
faster. Plus, there's more surface area through which excess
water can cook off.
Prepare your tomatoes. Romas don't have any
core to speak of, so after a quick rinse, you can just lop off the very
top where the stem was attached. Quickly chop each roma into
three pieces and toss them in the skillet. (Note: I'm of the
"skins and seeds are good for you and taste fine" school of
thought. If you disagree, you'll want to remove both at this
stage.) Once you've cut all of the tomatoes into large chunks,
take big handfuls and squeeze them until there's enough liquid in the
pan that the tomatoes won't stick to the bottom and burn.
Add other ingredients. Put your skillet of
tomatoes on the stove on medium-high heat (stirring the contents
occasionally so nothing sticks) and add anything else you like in your
spaghetti sauce. One of my large skillets holds about a gallon of
tomatoes, and to this I generally add 1 onion (sliced), 3 cloves of
garlic (pressed), 3 or 4 dried bay leaves, and some salt and
pepper. At the very end, I'll also add a lot of fresh basil
leaves and will vainly try to fish the used bay leaves out. If
I'm going to add hamburger meat, I usually cook it up separately and
add the meat at the end. Squash, peppers, or other vegetables can
go in about thirty minutes before the sauce is done.
Cook the sauce until it thickens. Delicious spaghetti
sauce has to be cooked long enough for the pectin to do its work.
I start the pan on medium-high until the contents are boiling hard,
then turn the heat down a bit at a time over the next hour or two until
the setting is on medium-low. During that time, the tomatoes will
cook down to about half their original volume. For quite a while,
you'll be stirring a pan of tomatoes and onions, but then, all of a
sudden, you can barely see individual components and the sauce tastes
and looks like sauce. Success!
worry if you scorch the bottom. I tend to forget to
stir nearly every batch at a critical stage and a bit of sauce sticks
to the bottom and burns. Whatever you do, don't
scrape that burnt bit back into the sauce and don't ignore it and keep
simmering. Instead, quickly pour off all of the good sauce into a
new skillet and set the scorched pan in the sink, filled with water, to
soak. As long as you don't stir the burnt sauce in or let the
good sauce sit on top of it long, you won't be able to taste the error
at all. (Maybe if you could, I'd be better about stirring and
wouldn't always let my spaghetti sauce burn?)
Lasagna is better for you than spaghetti. By now, I'm sure some
of you are wondering why I go to so much trouble to make spaghetti
sauce when we've deleted spaghetti from our diet and cut grains down to
a bare minimum. The same sauce can be used to make a high protein
and high vegetable lasagna that keeps my body healthy and my
spaghetti-loving tastebuds happy. To assemble a 9X13" pan of
lasagna, I use about a skillet and a half of spaghetti sauce, half this potsticker
dough recipe for the
noodles (which can be layered in uncooked), 1.5 pounds of hamburger
meat (cooked), quite a bit of cheddar, mozarella, and parmesan cheeses,
and any subset of cooked leafy greens, sliced summer squash, and sliced
mushrooms. Starting from tomatoes on the vine, it takes perhaps
three hours to make up a big pan of lasagna, but then we have quick
leftovers to heat up for lunch nearly all week!
Our chicken waterer keeps the flock entertained
even when forage is running low, so they peck at the nipple rather than
at each other.
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