By Michelle Wendt
As Published on Associated Content
This year my family planted cherry and grape tomatoes. It was our first year gardening after a three-year hiatus; we were just planting for household eating and not for canning or freezing purposes. Having no room to plant melons is always a disappointment, but the gentleman around the corner grows them and he typically sells them to us. Stopping by to get the melons, we found out that he was flush with ripe, Roma tomatoes and selling them for a $1 per half-bushel container. I told him that I already had enough tomatoes, but he was stressed that they would go bad before he could sell them and he argued with us in his Italian accent, " Take them home, make up some sauce, it's good eating. They gonna go bad here."
Well, we are not the type to let down a little old man, especially a neighbor, so we bought a bushel and prepared about 8 quarts of sauce from them. My thirteen-year-old daughter Haley, who is learning how to cook, practiced blanching the tomatoes in boiling water for two minutes. Then we let the hot tomatoes cool for a few minutes and sliced them in half. By grasping the ends of the tomatoes we pulled the skins right off. It was so easy. We had a bit of trouble with a few of the stem ends so we kept a small paring knife handy to assist us with the more unruly skins. My sister Pinky informed me today that if I had scored the skins before blanching, I would not have had this problem. According to her, this method also works well when skinning peppers. Haley had a great time skinning them and kept pushing me out of her way, I was stuck just slicing them in half.
After peeling the tomatoes we put extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of our stock pot and dumped in the pulpy fruit. My friend Belinda used to give the tomatoes a squeeze to get out any stray seeds before she cooked them down, but Haley and I decided to skip this step; Roma tomatoes do not have many seeds at all, so it is not usually a problem for me. We added fresh oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary and marjoram from the garden, and dried parsley and red pepper flakes from the pantry. Each one of the fresh spices grows very well and I am always delighted to utilize our abundant herb garden. We picked, washed, minced, and added the Italian spices a bit at a time as the tomatoes cooked down. Belinda used to say that if we just added the spices at the beginning, they would not be as aromatic or tasty as they would be if we kept adding some during the cooking process.
Simmering the tomatoes for an hour and half, we started to get a bit impatient that they weren't "cooking down" as fast as we wanted them to. Haley used the immersion blender to break up the more stubborn pulp and I added whole garlic cloves and minced garlic. I like to remove and use the cooked whole cloves and some butter to mash on Italian bread later. It is delicious! After pre-cooking our sweet Italian sausage in the frying pan, we added it and the juices to a portion of the sauce and allowed the meat sauce to simmer some more. The reason we reserved some of the sauce was to have an ample supply of both marinara and meat sauce on hand during the winter.
Likely Page Break
The sauce was finally done and we had to think about storage options. I save all the quart containers from the deli and Chinese food takeout, and I do not mind writing on them a bit. They fit well in the freezer door and are an invaluable resource to us as we make huge batches of soup all year long. After putting sauce up in the containers, we cleaned up our little mess and the rest of the family pitched in at this point. My husband explained how he would take care of the pots just like he had when he was young. He grabbed some of the Italian bread and took over the stockpot. Soon, my whole family was standing over the pots with slices of bread and scooping out the remains. It was the perfect end to a wonderful afternoon and I will remember the happiness of cooking with my daughter as we use each quart of sauce this winter on our pizzas, linguini, and parmesan.