Basic Tomato Sauce

[15 Jan 2010 | By | 8 Comments]

tomatoes at market

It’s official: I make my own tomato sauce. Not that I used jarred versions before, but now I seem to use A LOT of tomato sauce, making it constantly, with batches to fill my freezer and frequently—even daily—it seems I have a simmering pan full of tomatoes on the stove top. Which, if you think about the name of my blog and the country in which I currently reside… makes a lot perfect sense!

The kitchen here (in our apartment in Florence, Italy) is without a microwave, Cuisinart, kitchen aid, mixer, hand-held mixer, immersion blender, small chopper, and quite frankly even a good knife. I know—you didn’t feel sorry for me until I said knife. Wielding a good knife covers a multitude of kitchen inadequacies. I have one knife that seems like it is 2 feet long and about 1/2 inch high (god forbid I turn quickly and slice off my kitchen curtains). Another knife is serrated… on both sides. And my third and last knife has a decent blade, but the handle is warped from the dishwasher and pinches the skin between my thumb and forefinger… but who am I to complain? I am cooking in Italy, living abroad, and trying seasonal and local ingredients in Tuscany.

And on an important note, despite all of those aforementioned luxury tools that aren’t at my behest, I found a new tool that I have grown rather fond of: a classic food mill. It was tucked above the stove, on the top shelf in the back of a forgotten cupboard. And since I arrived it has landed on my counter with increasing frequency. In fact, it might be safe to say I now use it every day. That is what one does, without the specialty blenders and mixers and ability to puree… you find a way. And now I am very-nearly addicted to using this tomato skin-shedding, potato mashing, soup-pureeing device. Perhaps that is why my lunch-box-size freezer is full of tomato sauce and pizza sauce (different disks in this hand-propelled contraption offer varying thick to thin textures)?

canned tomatoesTomato sauce is useful when building things. And I don’t mean legos. But I grab some out of the freezer (or the nearby ‘daily’ pot of sauce) to layer lasagna, to make a quick pasta sauce (just add some pancetta or sausage or use it as is on some cheese ravioli), eggplant Parmesan, cannelloni, and next up: baked white fish in tomato sauce (seems to be a popular menu item here in Tuscany).  Oh and for the pizza sauce: I use the largest-holed disk first, then move to the smallest, so I have a really smooth sauce to top pizzas.

… do I even need a chopper?

Basic Tomato Sauce
2-3 T olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic
3 shallots
1/2 cup carrots, finely diced
Italian seasoning
kosher salt
1 1/2 LBS tomatoes, roughly chopped
Optional: tomato paste
Optional: 1 can Roma tomatoes (San Marzano)

Note: this ‘recipe’ is merely a guideline. It changes daily, depending on what I have on hand: a combination of cherry tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes, canned tomatoes and/or some Romas. The important thing is start with a good base, season it well and let it simmer to develop its flavors. You can adjust the consistency in the end by adding (or not) a few Tablespoons of tomato paste.

Heat skillet over low/medium heat. Add oil, when it shimmers add garlic, shallots, carrots, seasonings and salt. Stir occasionally, and saute for 10 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, turn heat to low (just maintain a tiny simmer) and let cook for 1/2 hour- 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If using canned tomatoes, add them after the fresh tomatoes have simmered for 20-30 minutes. When finished, off heat and grind through food mill into another bowl. Grind first with large-holed disk, then smaller if desired. Decide if you like the consistency or want it thicker—if you want it a bit thicker, stir in some tomato paste.

I use basic tomato sauce in some of my FAVORITE recipes, here:

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  • Ed Schenk said (17 January 2010 at 12:03 pm):

    I have also started making my own tomato sauce. I start with ground tomato and add some EVVO,salt,sugar and steep some fresh basil in at the end.

  • janelle said (18 January 2010 at 3:12 am):

    Ed: awesome! Do you freeze it or can it? Isn’t it rewarding?

  • Antonietta said (18 January 2010 at 9:09 pm):

    Hi Janelle,
    I love your story! Aren’t Italian kitchens so cute! When I lived in Rome our kitchen was so small we couldn’t open the over door all the way so once the pilot light went out we couldn’t use it. Ahh memories!
    I love reading about your adventures in Florence!

  • janelle said (19 January 2010 at 1:40 am):

    Antoinietta (love your name! My son’s is Antonio!!!). So happy to have found you—we have a blog PACKED with our adventures in Florence:

    Had to laugh at your one door kitchen;) SO TRUE!

  • Ribollita | Talk of Tomatoes said (20 February 2010 at 7:53 am):

    […] bay leaf (oops, forgot) red pepper flakes, S&P and Italian herbs (thyme if you have it) 1/3 cup basic tomato sauce (I put in 3 T tomato paste this round) 1-2 cups water 1-2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade) […]

  • Foodwhirl » Spotlight: Basic Tomato Sauce said (22 February 2010 at 6:57 am):

    […] Ah, to be cooking in Italy… I’m so envious!    Read the whole thing and get the recipe here… […]

  • Italian flag food: pizza sauce, pesto and mozzarella | Talk of Tomatoes said (12 March 2010 at 5:26 am):

    […] so much so that they prefer eating pizza IN. It is simply [and very, very conveniently] my basic tomato sauce, pushed through the smallest holes of a food mill (my basic sauce is pushed through large holes). I […]

  • Roasted Tomato Sauce for the Freezer: Enjoy the Summer’s Bounty in February! « Apron Strings said (4 September 2011 at 9:41 pm):

    […] posted about tomato freezer sauce a few days ago. Janelle at Talk of Tomatoes agrees with freezing the red stuff, too. And the Naptime Chef makes freezer-friendly sauce that looks so […]