It’s August, folks, and thus time for the eighth installment of the can jam. We’ve done citrus, carrots, alliums, herbs, rhubarb/asparagus, berries and cukes. The choice for this month? The tomato! Basically, the top of the summer mountain. I’ve canned tomatoes before. Tomato sauce? Yes! And I’d do it again! Salsa? Yep, but meh, it turned out kinda bland and watery. I prefer fresh salsa. This year I might try lacto fermented salsa. Don’t be skeered! Don’t you know beer and chocolate are fermented? All of this to say, I love tomatoes. You know this song? I feel the opposite.
Tomatoes make me very happy! I might need to cut a bitch who doesn’t like tomatoes. Just sayin’. Anyway, how do I love tomatoes? Let me count the ways. Fresh from the vine with just a pinch of kosher salt. In a Bloody Mary on a rainy Saturday (I live in Seattle OK?). The various and sundry permutations of the ‘mater you might find with pasta. Smeared on good bread with a bit of garlic. Salsa. Ketchup. You name it. The tomato is an effin’ powerhouse of awesome. Thus, because of my love, this time of year gets to be a bit stressful, what with figuring out where to get good tomatoes and what to do with them. I had dreams this summer. Dreams that the almost inappropriately large amount of tomato plants that Double S and I planted this year would yield bushels and pecks (and kisses on the neck for me! Hi oh!) of tomatoes for me to eat and process and dry and freeze (Are they good frozen? I’ve heard mixed reviews…). However, as I’ve lamented here before, we have had a bit of a disappointing summer here in Seattle, and word around town is that there will be no tomatoes in our gardens this year. Boo hiss! I wouldn’t have been able to buy enough for how much processing I want to do anyway, but still.
So this weekend, returning home from camping in the Enchantments and a weekend in Washington’s Little Bavaria, we stopped at a roadside vegetable stand and bought 20 pounds of roma tomatoes from a local farmer. Why romas? Because I knew I wanted their penchant for thickness.
I wanted to make pizza sauce! Yes, I was THAT excited about it! I love pizza. Ask Double S. I basically inquire as to whether we can eat pizza seven nights per week. NY style, St. Louis style (Suck it, haters!), generic pizza, artisanal pizza, basically everything except Chicago style, which, come on let’s be honest, yo can barely call pizza anyway. Pizza is my shit. I will even often exclaim, “That’s A Nice’a Pizza” when I like something, which is both absurd (A google search reveals that there is a pizza place near my parents’ house in St. Louis that goes by this name, which I’ve never been to but seeems to have made a big impresion on me) and offensive to the Italian American community. But I figure they have bigger fish to fry with the whole Jersey Shore mess, so whatevs, right? Anyway, this awesome pizza sauce, my love for pizza, and our recently acquired Kitchenaid mixer for maiing homemade dough all adds up to a lot of homemade pizza here at the homestead this fall and winter.
So here’s the recipe folks, and I hate to too my own horn (Ed.’s note: Actually, I love to do so), but this sauce is AWESOME!
Briggsy’s Pizza Sauce
I adapted my recipe from this one I found on Epicurious, and the pizza sauce recipe from Small Batch Preserving for guidance on basics such as proportions of tomato, salt, sugar, acid, cook time and head space. I was also guided by tips I read here and some discussions on the pizzamaking.com forums. Yep, I troll the pizzamaking.com forums. Jealous much? It was on said forum that I believe I learned the real trick to make this sauce saucesome: the combo of red wine vinegar and sugar. It really did seem to give this sauce the real pizza sauce taste. Double S agreed. She went crazy for this stuff! Thus, this sauce is Briggsy tested, Double S approved!
Makes 12 pints (and each pint makes about 2 regular sized pizzas)
18 lbs roma or paste tomatoes
5 cups chopped onions (I used Walla Walla Sweets)
1 head garlic (cuz that’s how I roll)
1 bunch basil, plus a handful more from my garden. I would have picked more basil from my garden, but to level with you, I can’t find that shit. I overpacked my tomato beds with tomato plants, then planted the basil between the plants. Now it’s lost in there like your car at the mall parking lot.
Heaping handful of fresh diced oregano (from my garden). I chopped the oregano dry. Why did I never know how much easier it is to chop dry herbs?
5 t sea salt plus a bit more that I let sit on the garlic
1 1/2 t ground white pepper (white because that’s all we had. Yeah, we were out of pepper. What?)
6 T red wine vinegar. I used vinegar for adding acid for canning purposes and to give the sauce that aforementioned indescribable pizza sauce essence.
6 t sugar
10 T good olive oil. Yep, I used oil and you can too! I’ve used it before when canning my pasta sauce, with much success, and I found enough recipes and success stories online that I decided to do it again.
1. Prep your jars by putting them in the dishwasher and keeping them warm, or otherwise sterilizing them.
2. Prep your tomatoes. Wash them well. Then core them. I just used a paring knife and cutting board, and watched How I Met Your Mother on demand. Easy peezy! Because they are romas, there was very little watery mess. Suit up!
3. Dice your onions and garlic. Add some salt to the garlic, mash it up and let it sit for awhile to release it’s garlicky goodness.
4. Put the olive oil in a large thick bottomed pot. The thick bottom is key. A thin bottom el cheapo pan will yield scorched tomatoes and sauce with a burnt taste. Mine was heading in that direction until I realized it and moved the sauce into two of the thickest bottom pots we have. Heat the oil. Add the onions and let them sweat for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and let it sweat for another 5 minutes or so.
Yep, sweat ‘em, good. While you sweat your alliums, enjoy this.
5. Add the tomatoes and spices, salt and pepper, sugar and vinegar. Then, just let this bad boy cook for awhile. And I mean awhile. The Small Batch Preserving recipe suggested about an hour and fifteen minutes. Mine probably took about two hours. I let the sauce cook uncovered and at a fairly high heat, from between medium high to medium most of the two hours, to get rid of that water and make the sauce nice and thick.
6. When the sauce is at your desired thickness, it’s time to bust out the food mill, because you want your pizza sauce to be a nice uniform consistency.
I read some recipes where the tomatoes went through the food mill first, but I wanted the guts and skins to infuse their tomato-y goodness into the sauce as long as possible, so I decided to run the finished sauce through the mill, and I think this was a great decision. Here’s how you do it. Have a large pan to hold the food mill over. It will collect the finished sauce. Also, it’s much easier to do this part with a friend, as you need someone to ladle more sauce into the food mill, help you get rid of pulp, control the mess, etc. I had never used a food mill. The instructions say to keep reversing the blade as well as advancing it forward. It wasn’t until I fully comprehended that part of the instructions that this became much easier. Also, based on tips from Well Preserved’s awesome series on tomatoes that they’re running this week, I ran the spent pulp through the food mill one more time. And I would have ran it through even more if I would have had a better press like they do. Run it through as many more times as you can stand without getting carpal tunnel. You want to get out all the sauce you can because this shit is delish! Plus we saved the excess dried pulp to toss in soups, rice, etc. It smells divine!
7. Ladle the sauce into sterilized pint jars. Leave one half inch for headspace. Use a knife to go down the insides of the jars to remove air bubbles. Wipe the rims with a clean napkin.
8. Process in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes at a full boil. Remove and make sure all of you jars had sealed. I had one jar that didn’t seal. Denied! Could I have popped that bad boy back in the water to get it to seal, or is it over at that point?
And that’s it. Canning tomatoes is a long process, so it’s best to devote some time and preparation to it. Scope out the best source of tomatoes. Get the tomatoes a few days in advance and let them fully ripen. Spread them out on newspaper and keep them in a cool place in your house until you’re ready to use them. Do NOT put them in the fridge or I will cry. Gather your equiptment and a lot of jars. Get some friends together to share the labor and the fruits thereof. Plan something fun for afterwards, beause it will be a long, hot day. Put some time into figuring out what recipe you want to use, but don’t be afraid to make something basic. Think about how many times throughout the year you buy canned tomatoes. Using those that you canned as a base is cheaper, fresher, and you know what’s inside. I’m excited to can more tomatoes as they become more readily available in the Pacific Northwest. Savor the awesomeness of tomatoes!