Garden Fresh Tomato Sauce

This summer has been bursting with tomatoes. My tomato plants have been producing like crazy, and I have been doing all I can just to keep up with the harvest.  Besides giving a TON away, I have been making roasted, baked, sliced, stuffed, and sautéed tomatoes.  Let’s not forget eating them fresh off the vine and making sauce!  Sauce is the perfect way to use a ton of tomatoes and ensure you will enjoy every one.  Not to mention fresh sauce is much better than store-bought sauce, and can easily be made in large batches and canned so it lasts all winter!

I have been making fresh sauce for quite some time now, but this year the heightened number of tomato plants has forced me (in the best way possible) to make fresh sauce much more often.  With a bounty of peppers coming from my garden as well, I have been adding diced peppers to the sauce along with basil, parsley, oregano, and chives from my herb garden.  If only my onions are garlic were ready to be harvested…:)

The cool part about homemade sauce is you can really cater it to your tastes.  You can make a very basic sauce of tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil, salt, and pepper, then add more flavors depending on what you like.  Personally, I love onions as well as extra herbs to give the sauce a ton of flavor. Peppers, mushrooms, roasted garlic, and even carrots or squash can be added. The addition of ground meat will make a homemade bolognese sauce or you can cook meatballs or other pieces of meat in the sauce pot.  The occasion for making the sauce will usually determine what extra ingredients you want to add.

If you can get your hands on organic roma tomatoes, that’s your best bet for sauce making.  Any tomato variety will work, however roma tomatoes have the least amount of moisture and will take far less time to cook down and turn into a thick sauce.  This is why roma tomatoes are called sauce tomatoes!  I usually use mostly roma tomatoes, however I always add other varieties to spice it up.  I especially love to add heirloom cherry tomatoes; they add a certain sweetness that is fantastic!

I always recommend buying organic fruits and vegetables because nobody should be eating pesticides; it’s just not natural!  Also, the skin of fruits and vegetables contains the highest amount of nutrients, however if they are not organic they also contain all the pesticides.  I grow my tomatoes organically and therefore I leave the skins on when I make sauce.  If you cannot find organic tomatoes then you should blanch and peel them before making sauce with them.

Now let’s make some sauce!

When I make sauce, I rarely measure out how much of each ingredient I use.  I go by feel and taste. Here is my basic recipe for sauce:

5-7 lbs diced tomatoes (mostly roma, with a few handfuls of heirloom cherry tomatoes)
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped basil
salt and pepper, to taste

That’s the most basic recipe.  Add the following and you will add a little more flavor:

1 medium yellow onion, diced
extra 2 cloves of minced galic
extra 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped oregano
1/4 cup chopped parsley

This summer, I have been adding the following ingredients:

4 Italian sweet peppers, diced
2 Tbsp chopped chives
splash of red wine

I love the pepper flavor in my sauce.  It is subtle when you use sweet peppers, but you can really spice it up with hot peppers!  My jalapeño pepper plants are just flowering now!  They take so long to grow (they were started indoors mid-january), hopefully I will get at least one before the summer is over so I can make a spicy red sauce.

Here is the sauce making process.  Slicing and dicing all the veggies is the hardest part! I recommend using a serrated edged knife to cut the tomatoes because straight-edged knives tend to squish them as opposed to slicing.

Start by adding the oil, onions, and peppers (if using) to a large pot.  Keep the on medium-low heat and saute the vegetables until they are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, or until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the tomatoes slowly to avoid splashing.  If your pot is not big enough, you can add the tomatoes in two batches.  This gives the tomatoes some time to cook down between adding more so they all fit. Once adding the tomatoes, turn the heat up to medium-high and stir regularly.  You should notice the tomatoes starting to compress and a watery sauce forming.

Once most of the tomatoes have sweat down and your sauce is bubbling, turn the heat down to low and add your herbs.   Let simmer for 3-7 hours (lid off) stirring every once and a while until the sauce has reached your desired consistency.  The amount of time will vary depending on your stove and the types of tomatoes you are using.  You can speed up this part by keeping the heat slightly higher than a simmer, however if you do this make sure you stir every 5-10 minutes because the bottom will start to burn.  I always add a splash of red wine to heighten the flavor.  When your sauce is close to done, add salt and pepper to taste.

At this point, your sauce is ready!  I personally love the texture of the chunks of veggies and tomato skin, however I do know some picky eaters who do not appreciate seeing the vegetables that went into making the sauce.  Not a problem!  Simply throw your sauce in a food processor or high speed blender, and you have a smooth sauce that everyone can appreciate!  Note the difference in  color.  If you make the basic sauce your pureed sauce will be red, however this sauce I used peppers which turned the puree orange.  It almost looks like a cream sauce,  yum!

I have been making so much sauce this summer that I started canning it so it will last throughout the winter. I will be sharing a post on how to can later this week, so make sure to check back!  Canning is a great way to preserve the summer bounty so it can be enjoyed in the cold, and barren winter months. It also makes great christmas gifts 😉

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