The Multi-Purpose “Red Sauce”

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By Javier Lastras from España/Spain – Tomate Natural Triturado, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9822625

It’s summer which means an abundance of tomatoes. In the past, I have been overwhelmed by tomatoes from my garden or my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscriptions. Living where I do now, I do not have access to such bounty but summer reminds me of the times I have had to figure out to use the tomato overload Today I wanted to share one of my favorite ways to process and store the fruit, red sauce aka tomato sauce.

What makes tomatoes so special?

Tomatoes cook well. Whether you start off with unripe tomatoes or with mushy ones, once you cook it, they fall apart to create this quick sauce. Tomato sauces also thicken really well. If you give a tomato based sauce, some time and heat, it will thicken without the help of cornstarch or other thickeners. Tomatoes are an excellent source of, umami, the savory taste. This is why adding some concentrated tomato, in the form of tomato paste, will improve any stew. Tomatoes are found in so many different styles of cooking. Although it originated in the Americas, this wonderful fruit, now, has a place in cuisines all around the world.

I prefer to use the term red sauce because the term tomato sauce can mean different things in different places. In America, it usually refers to any variation of pasta sauce but growing up, it meant ketchup. It is also that product you find in the canned tomato section at the grocery store. Another reason I call it red sauce is because I use it as a base for more than just pasta. Pasta is just one of the many ways I like to use the concoction. I use it in chili, Indian curries, as well as soups.

Goal:

  • Make use of the abundant summer tomatoes and find a way to make them last into the colder months. This means it has to store well.
  • Spend less money on store-bought canned goods.
  • The process should not be too time consuming. In the case of tomatoes that would be no peeling or seeding. Using thin-skinned tomatoes helps greatly.
  • In order to make it truly multi-purpose, it has to have versatile flavors that can be adapted for use in any cuisine.

After much experimentation in terms of flavor, processing time, and storage, this is a brief description of what I usually do to create a tomato base I like.

Process:

This sauce is all about the process. Add the ingredients in the right order and at the right time and it should be all good. Melt some butter and add a little bit of grated onion and salt. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions are a very lightly brown. Add pressed/ grated garlic and stir until you have the wonderful fragrance. Add tomatoes (diced) and some sugar and bring it to a simmer and then cook uncovered until the sauce is a little thicker. It should take around 30 minutes of cooking time.

Notes:

I use butter because I find it to be the most versatile of the fat options. One could use olive oil if you only intended to use it in certain dishes. I personally do not appreciate the flavor of olive oil in my Indian food. I also use grated onions because something about grating it gives it the sauce the perfect distribution of flavor. I also do not link chunks of onions in all of the dishes I make using this sauce.

This is the simplest version of the sauce and the one I freeze. It can also be canned. I have done that in the past but I am not confident I have the directions to safely can something as tricky as tomatoes.

Now that we have a basic sauce, we will be able to modify it as needed for different foods. In Friday’s post, I will share my Top 10 uses for this sauce and how I adapt the sauce for each of these dishes. I find that giving tomatoes plenty of time to cook is key to many recipes and having a big part of that done really saves on cooking time.

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