It’s tomato season time, so at our place, it’s also tomato sauce making day. How to make your own tomato sauce? Get down to your local farmer’s market and pick up a few barrels of the reddest tommies, gather some friends, chill a little wine, and read on… How do I love thee, tomato? Let me count the ways. I love them for breakfast, Catalan style, with the pulp squashed onto a piece of garlic-infused toasted bread and drizzled with a little olive oil. I’ll make an Antipasto Caprese which will see them sliced up thin and layered with boconnici, red onion a little basil. Yesterday, I picked a couple of the cherry variety straight from the vine which then went into my waiting mouth . I add them in my curries to calm down the heat. Like a good Aussie, I’ll squeeze ketchup (or sauce as we call it back home) directly into a hot pie or sausage roll. I hide it in a soup so that my little boy can’t tell. I have sneaked in some vodka and got juiced with a couple, and the next day I’ve drunk them clean to help me recover. I’ll broil them, bake them, squash them, squeeze them, I can chop them, pulp them, but my favourite of all is to cook them up as sauce and can them.
When moving to North America, I quickly realised that with such a short growing season, many people do can a great deal of produce and enjoy it during the long stretch of winter. My local market, the Marché Jean Talon/Jean Talon Market which is in the heart of Montreal’s Little Italy, provides a fruit and vegetable canner with all the good bounty they can wish for – not only tomatoes, but peppers and beans and pickles and chillies and its to Marché Jean Talon I go to each fall to get my tomatoes.
Although I have been canning tomatoes since arriving in Canada, last year, with a growing boy (who loves spaghetti, rosé sauce and chilli) I ran out mid-winter and decided that this year, I’d make a double batch; one for our tiny Montreal apartment, and another to keep in our cottage pantry, where we do a great deal of cooking over the weekends. Over the years, I have also tweaked and modified my canning methods, mostly because I have actually had huge batches of sauce either spoil and have to be thrown away, or not make it to the can at all. This year, having run out of canning jars, I asked the nice ladies at Quincaillarie Danté (a couple of streets back from the market) for some tips, and having followed their methods, produced a fresh and tasty sauce, none of which has spoiled. Over the years, I have also accumulated various tools and props used to make the process easier, but several of these you can do without.
Canning tomatoes is also a great ritual to do with others. This year my friend Sofi, a foreign correspondent, who like me, has taken the year off from work to study, and is someone I can talk to about food and war in the same breath, joined me to make a big batch in the city. My friend Amélie, who has done this with me several times before, recently moved into a condomonium and has started a tradition of pooling together the condo owners in her building, and this year, they cooked up a huge 100 litres!
What you need:
- Tomatoes! I choose Roma as they are the traditional sauce tomato, but I have also mixed Roma with Beefheart
- A big bunch of fresh basil
- A big pot (if you have two, one for boiling, the other for cooking, even better)
- A tomato sauce machine. (aluminium ones sell for around $35 at most good kitchen stores, but you can manually de-skin and core the tomatoes yourself).
- A big wooden spoon. Preferably, GIANT wooden spoon
- Bit of sea salt
- Mason jars
- Lids and seals (change seals every year)
- Heat-proof tongs
- Funnel (for pouring the sauce into jars)
- If you have time and space, buy your tomatoes a couple of days before canning and lay them outside. The Italians say infusing them with sun, makes for a richer, juicier sauce.
- Wash tomatoes
- Put tomatoes in a boiling pot of water and cook until skins split (about 7 minutes)
- De-skin and de-seed tomatoes. Either do this manually with a pairing knife aftery waiting for them to cool down, or put them through a “cluck-cluck” machine (called so because of the noise it makes) which will do the job for you. If using the machine, make sure to pass the tomatoes through twice to make sure you get out as much of the meat as possible.
- Now put the tomato pulp into your pot and simmer for about two hours, stirring often. If you like a thicker sauce, cook until you feel the consistency is ready.
- Whilst tomatoes are cooking, wash your basil and hand pick leaves, enough for one leaf for each jar.
- Half an hour before your sauce is done, put washed jars into your oven and heat the oven to 250 degrees celsius. The trick to successful canning is heat – your sauce and your jars must be hot to the touch, otherwise your sauce will spoil.
- About ten minutes before both the jars and sauce is done, pop your lids and seals in a pot of hot water and heat until boiling, then turn down the heat, yet keep these warm until you need them.
- With your tongs, take out 1-2 jars out of the oven at a time and place on a towel. With the funnel, pour the sauce directly to the jar, leaving about an inch from the top. Place 1-2 basil leaves ontop of the sauce, the herb will infuse and parfume the sauce.
- Now take out a seal from the water, dry it quickly, seal it in place and then take a twist top lid and lightly close it, being careful not to tighten the jar. It should not be loose, but neither too tight. Wipe down any tomato you may get on the lid, the seals and lids must be clean.
- Repeat this process until all jars are done.
- Sstore the jars in a box and cover with a blanket and leave in a safe spot for 48 hours.
- Test for spoiling by unscrewing the lid and turning the jar upside down, if the seal falls off, your jar has not been canned properly and you either have to reheat your sauce and repeat steps 7-12 again or keep the jar in the fridge and use it within two weeks.
Et voila! I use my sauce in pasta sauces, it’s consistency is perfect to add in soups, I also add it to curries and stews and over the top of baked tilapia, in ratatouille, chilli. It’s a healthy, ready made base in a jar, without the nasty preservatives which are found in your typical supermarket shelf variety. A can of tomatoes cost me about $1-$1,20 jar to make, yet tomatoes, like a anything made-a-plenty, should be tithed to your friends and family, yet hopefully this year, I’ll be kept in tomatoes, both in town and in country!
Marché Jean Talon/Jean Talon Market (http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/Jean-Talon/)
Quincaillerie Danté (6851 St Dominique, Montreal, QC H2S3B3/https://www.facebook.com/pages/Quincaillerie-Dante/171010306265493)
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