Thursday, December 2, 2010

Simply Roasted Tomato Sauce

It has been a couple weeks since our final tomato harvest and the fruit I had set out in boxes is nearly all ripe.  Time to roast what is ripe for sauce, which in my mind is the only way to make sauce by the way.  It is so easy and honestly, there is just something magical that happens to the flavor of tomatoes when they are roasted.  This year it was Roma and San Marzano plum tomatoes that I grew in part to see which tasted better and to be honest, the San Marzanos really were better than the Romas.  A good thing to know is that plum tomatoes are the best ones for sauce because they are a dryer tomato and also don't have as many seeds as slicers or salad types.  I have made sauce out of a little purple grape tomato which had amazing flavor but have lost track of.  It may be the tomato of legend for me, the one that got away...but I digress.

Final harvest is in and ready for ripening
Everyone agrees that nothing tastes quite like fresh home grown tomatoes.  In my opinion there is nothing like the taste of sauce made from them either.  It has all the tomato goodness it needs to shine in any dish as the star performer or add those rich harmony notes of flavor to stews and soups.  Roasting brings forward the sugars and mellows the acidic overtones a bit and brings out a depth of flavor that those of us who make sauce love.  When they are left to caramelize the flavor deepens even more.  So here is the process I use for roasting tomatoes.  It's pared down and easy.  You can dress it up or keep it plain, either way you will have wonderful product that you can pop into the freezer for those cold winter soups, pastas, pizza or meat sauces.
San Marzano and Roma Tomatoes from my garden ready for roasting
The tomatoes get washed and cut in half and layered on a jellyroll pan which I had spray with oil to help reduce the roasted goodness from sticking to the bottom. I don't bother with seeding or peeling them.  I pile them high in the pan because they do shrink down quite a bit.  I used to only do one layer and they never cooked as well as piling them up does.

The oven is set at 350 degrees and it will take at least an hour to roast a batch and a bit longer if I want them to caramelize.
After 30 minutes I check them. They are soft and wilting along the edges and steaming.
Smashing and turning and more smashing

Next I grab the potato masher or a large spoon and mash them down into the liquid. The pan is pretty full so I don't recommend trying to take it out of the oven and risk spilling it all over one's self so I do it right on the oven rack and just carefully turn the pan to reach all corners. This helps to keep the tomatoes roasting more evenly releasing the liquid inside them.
Sweet sauce of my dreams being born

Lots of steam rising from the pan now.
As you can see in the picture there is a lot more steam rising up from them after they get smashed than when I first checked them.  This helps to better reduce that excess liquid which will make the sauce nice and thick.  I will check them again in 30 minutes until they are as thick as I want them to be and to avoid them browning too much.
Water reduced now to caramelize a bit
 By the way this is a great way to make paste too.
Caramelizing on top of tomatoes is done
 The the roasting is complete in about an hour and I take the pan out and let it cool to near room temperature and then slip the yummy sauce into freezer containers.
Yum Yum Yummy!

This sauce is thick enough for ziploc bags so it will take up a lot less space in the freezer and will thaw faster too because of it being flattened instead of in a block.  That is always a consideration, space and thawing.  Remember to add that to your notes for when you go to roast your own tomatoes. 
Labeled, dated and air removed, ready for freezing

So there you have it...the tastiest tomato sauce in just over an hour from start to finish.  To make into spaghetti sauce just saute a medium onion in olive oil, add a splash of red wine and 2 cloves crushed garlic along with some browned Italian sausage in the same pan.  Add the tomato sauce to the pan and finish with chopped fresh basil and cook on medium low for a few minutes to blend the flavors.  If you want smooth sauce you can blend in the food processor or blender.  We like ours more rustic and its really quite pretty that way too.  Garnish with shredded Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

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