Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tomato Sauce -- First Batch of 2011

I finally had enough Amish Paste and Juliet tomatoes to make this season's first batch of sauce today.  This is the first year that I'm using an Italian tomato press for making sauce, and I have to say that it makes the task much, much easier than skinning tomatoes and de-seeding them by hand!

The press that I got is a Roma food strainer & sauce maker that I purchased from Weston Supply for around $65 including tax and shipping.  The order also included a bonus 4-piece accessory kit of different strainers that allow me to process just about any kind of soft fruit, vegetable or berry with it.  If today was an indication of how much value I'm going to get out of this thing, then I have to say that it will be worth every penny several times over.  The only complaint I have with it so far is that the strainer wanted to rotate around the suction-cup base as I was turning the crank, but that could also be due to putting a light coating of oil on the rubber to help it stick better.  Next time I'll just do it dry and see if it eliminates the problem.

Here's a picture of the tomato press with the hopper full of quartered tomatoes.  You press the tomatoes down into the hopper with the red plunger sitting on top, then by turning the crank a screw inside of the press forces them through the first strainer.  The threads on the screw get smaller the further out they go, and the diameter of the strainer gets smaller at the same time, so it pushes out all of the juice and even a good bit of pulp, which flows down the chute into the bowl on the right.  The skins, seeds and remainder of the pulp get spit out the end and into the second bowl.  You definitely lose some pulp this way, but for the amount of work it saves it's well worth it.

Roma brand Food Strainer and Sauce Maker, filled and ready to process

And here's me and my #1 helper for all things gardening -- my four year old daughter.  It's amazing to me how much she wants to help me with everything I do.  All I have to do is disappear into the garden and she'll find me within 5 minutes, wanting to be let in the gate, wanting to help me pick whatever is ready.  In case you're wondering about the outfit, she's getting ready to head out to her gymnastics class right as I was processing the tomatoes -- but she wouldn't be satisfied if she couldn't turn the crank on the press!  I guess this all shows another benefit of gardening -- it provides a productive activity that parents and children can do together.

Daddy and daughter time -- there's nothing like it!

Finally, here's the final product ready to be cooked down in a stock pot.  I put in some fresh oregano and basil leaves, along with a little bit of olive oil, and it will take most of the day to cook down into sauce.  I'll probably lose close to half of the volume, but that will only concentrate the flavor.  After that, I'll can it in mason jars using a hot water bath, label it with some masking tape and a Sharpie marker, and put it up on the shelf to save for the winter.  During the summer we don't use much sauce,  preferring instead to just stew mixed vegetables in a white wine and garlic base for over our pasta.

Ready to cook down

I failed to mention one of the best benefits of living with a garden, besides the cheap and delicious vegetables that are better than anything you can get in the supermarket anymore -- the fact that kids actually like them.  Our daughter turned to us the other night when she had half-finished her dinner of a grilled hot dog and roasted mixed vegetables and said, "Mommy and daddy, I don't want any more of my hot dog.  Is it OK if I just eat the rest of my vegetables?"  My wife and I just looked at each other, wide-eyed, and replied with half-stunned voices, "Sure, go ahead."

Even if you don't have a garden for fresh tomatoes and herbs, you can always pick them up from local farms and farmers' markets.  Look for "seconds" that might be slightly bruised or almost past the point of ripeness to get a better deal.  If you have a tomato press, there's no reason you can't make sauce like this.  Homemade tomato sauce also makes a great gift for friends over the winter -- I can guarantee that most people will appreciate it much more than another bottle of store-bought wine!

As always, your comments are welcome and, if you like this sort of thing, please take a moment and pass it along to your friends.  Thanks!

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