Tomato sauce is an essential ingredient for quick and easy home-cooked meals. Homemade tomato sauce has a fresh, rich taste that jarred sauce cannot match, and it's incredibly simple to make. There's no need to buy jarred sauce. Once you try homemade sauce and taste the difference, the jarred sauce won't compare. There are many ways to make fresh tomato sauce, and it freezes well, so you can always have it on hand. Even though it's simple to make, it's the most difficult recipe for me to write.
I was telling a friend of mine the other day that I was struggling with writing a recipe for tomato sauce, and she laughed so hard that she snorted. We both started cracking up. She said, "You can't be serious. You make tomato sauce all the time, and you even have a freezer dedicated to tomatoes for making it. You could make it with your eyes closed." I'll explain why I have a freezer dedicated to tomatoes in a moment, but first, let me explain why I find this recipe so challenging.
I do make tomato sauce a lot. It’s part of my heritage and a secret to easy dinners. However, I struggle with writing a recipe because I make it so many ways and never with a recipe. Sometimes I mash the tomatoes, and sometimes I puree them. I cook the tomatoes in a low pan and caramelize them with dry white wine for a richer taste or make a large batch in a soup pot for a more traditional flavor. I use Roma, vine-ripened, cherry, and grape tomatoes. Really, any fresh tomato I can get my hands on. Sometimes I even leave the skin on. The method depends on how much time I have and how many tomatoes I am cooking. I will write all these methods and add the links to this post, but for now, let’s start with what you can use tomato sauce for, and then I will share a simple way to make it.
The Italians add tomato sauce to a few simple ingredients to make delicious meals. You can use it on pasta and pizza, of course, but the Italians also use tomato sauce with chicken, beef, bread, vegetables, and fish. They put it on everything, and it’s delicious.
Pizza and pasta- of course
Chicken Cacciatore- chicken with onion, bell peppers, olives, and tomato sauce
Steak Pizzaiola – pan-seared steak on a bed of tomato sauce.
Pappa al Pomodoro- onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, tomato sauce, and mozzarella
Caponata- bell peppers, onions, celery, eggplant, olives, and tomato sauce
I have yet to work with someone who doesn’t tell me that they keep a jar of pasta sauce in the cupboard for a quick go-to family dinner. More proof that this is an essential sauce many rely on. And homemade makes a world of difference.
The only problem with making fresh tomato sauce, and I think what deters many people, is that the skin needs to be removed from the tomatoes. This is typically done by blanching tomatoes in boiling water and then peeling off the skin. An easy technique but time-consuming. And often enough of a barrier for a busy family to avoid making fresh sauce. Over the years, I have worked to streamline the process of making tomatoes, and this is why I freeze Roma tomatoes. When they thaw, the skin falls off, making it effortless to remove the skin. In the summer, when tomatoes are in season, I buy bushels and freeze them in a small chest freezer, so I have flavorful tomatoes all winter. So simple and a good argument to invest in a second freezer.
You might be wondering why not just use canned tomatoes. You can, but the flavor of fresh is just that much better, and that's worth it. However, I recognize that you may not always have fresh tomatoes available, so this recipe is about how to make a sauce with canned tomatoes and what kind to buy.
I’ll be writing more about different techniques using fresh tomatoes. Be sure to sign up for my free monthly newsletter so you don’t miss future posts here. I am positive that after you add homemade tomato sauce as a staple on your menu, you will also make it in a creative manner rather than following an exact recipe. So let’s get started with this first recipe to make a small batch and try your hand at making homemade tomato sauce.
While fresh in-season tomatoes are always the best flavor, a quality canned San Marzano tomato from Italy packed without any citric acid is good enough and always available. See the notes below to read more about citric acid.
28-ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes packed without citric acid
3-4 cloves of fresh garlic
2 sprigs of fresh basil - about 10 basil leaves
1 tsp of Celtic or sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
1/4 -1/2 cup dry red or white wine (not sweet)
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for one minute to open the flavor but not brown it. Then add the tomatoes, squeezing them with your hand to crush them—and add the basil, salt, and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes. Add the (optional) dry red or white wine and cook for another 20 minutes.
Next, use an immersion blender. Pulse a few times to break up the chunks and smooth out the sauce.
Citric acid is a preservative made from a form of mold. It is a manufactured chemical, and our bodies are not designed to digest chemicals. “[Manufactured] citric acid is a major industrial chemical. Its main source is not fruit but from the fermentation of crude sugars (e.g., molasses and corn starch) by the mold Aspergillus niger.” National Library of Medicine.
Chemical additives can cause bloating and a heavy feeling in the stomach and be difficult to digest. Therefore, it is wise to avoid as many as possible.
Manufactured citric acid has a bitter, unpleasant taste, so manufacturers add sugar, salt, and other additives to cover up the taste, which is another good reason to avoid citric acid. Read the labels on canned tomatoes and select one that does not contain citric acid for a healthier and fresher option.
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