August 1st, 2008

Tomato Sauce From Scratch

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At the end of the summer you might notice your Italian American friends unable to play croquet with you for an entire weekend because they’re “making sauce.” I was always really jealous of this ritual. Jealous because it was the essence of a domesticity that always seemed out of my reach. And also really jealous because I never had a yard.

Homemade tomato sauce in all its glory

While looking for some info on this here internet, I didn’t really find any really good directions for from scratch tomato sauce, so hopefully this little photo essay will be helpful. This is basically what I’ve gleaned from sitting in my friend’s kitchen when I was ten and just talking to my friends about making sauce. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just a bunch of hours to kill and preferably a friend or two to make it with you. Forget 30 minute meals, how about 6 hour ones? What better way to bond with someone than over a simmering pot garlicky tomato sauce? Video games or a movie have got nothing on this.

Michelle and I were painfully naive when we thought we would actually make enough sauce to jar it for the winter. I didn’t weigh them, but we had 3 dozen* nice sized tomatoes that ended up making about two spaghetti sauce jarfuls of sauce. Instead of giving you a recipe, I am just going to give guidelines, since your quantity and ingredients may vary. Good olive oil and lots of garlic are obvious, and for herbs we had a lot of oregano and thyme so that is what we used. I would definitely recommend fresh herbs, though.

Okay, make with the sauce! Besides the good old standbys like a knife and cutting board, here’s what you’ll need to have ready:

  • At least three big mixing bowls since there will be lots of transferring and prepping going on.
  • A lot of ice for shocking the tomatoes once they’ve been blanched.
  • An immersion blender or just a regular old blender.
  • A big gigantic pot, or what I call a “soup kitchen pot.”
  • A slotted spoon.

First you’ll need to boil a huge pot of water. We’re going to blanch the tomatoes to get their skin off. To make peeling easy you score the tomatoes with an “X” on the tops and bottoms.

We didn’t even bother pulling the stickers off our tomatoes since they are going to be skinned anyway. Once the water is boiling, prepare your ice bath. Just fill a big bowl with half ice, half cold water. Have it at the ready.

Drop your tomatoes into the boiling water in manageable batches. We did somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 at a time. Blanching means you are just flash boiling them, we found that one minute worked best. When the minute is up, fish them out with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the ice bath.

Michelle was working at lightening speed!

Once everyone has been ice bathed and is cool to the touch, it’s time to move on to the peeling. It should be really easy, just peel down from where you’ve scored. Place all the peeled guys in a bowl.

Now it’s time for seeding. Slice the tomato across the waist, not top to bottom. This will give you the best access to the seeds. Next, we seed! Just smush your fingers in there and get the seeds out. Do it over a bowl so that you can strain the liquid later and have tomato juice. If there are a few seed stragglers, don’t worry about it. Just do the best you can.

Once the seeds are out, over a big separate bowl, pull all the tomato-y stuff away from the rough core at the top and drop the rest into the bowl. Discard the cores. We toyed with cutting around the core, but this way was the fastest, most efficient and the funnest. The bottom halves of the tomato won’t have the core/stem thingy, obviously, so just mush those up with your fingers and drop them in.

Now comes the delicious smelling part. We used about half a head of minced garlic and just a small amount of chopped red onion, maybe a cup’s worth. In the big pot that you blanched the tomatoes in, saute the garlic and onion in an ample amount of olive oil, a few tablespoon’s worth. When onion is translucent, add the tomatoes, along with salt and black pepper. Don’t over salt, it is going to cook down and concentrate. We used a scant teaspoon. Also, add some sugar to cut down on the acidity. Four teaspoons worked perfectly for our tomatoes, your mileage may vary.

The next step is easy, you just cook it uncovered until it reduces to about 1/4 its amount. This was accomplished in about 2 hours. Keep the heat high and stir often. It will start smelling like Sicily within half an hour. Once it’s cooked down, puree with an immersion blender, or in batches in your regular blender. Then add fresh herbs, but be frugal about it. As you’ll see the sauce tastes rich and succulent without them and you don’t want to mask the taste, you just want to accentuate it. Simmer for just a few minutes more to let the herbs release their magic.

Just like mama never made.

I can honestly say that I’ve never tasted anything so amazing. Like I said, we were surprised to be left with such a small amount, but you know what? It was totally worth it and we’d do it again in a heart beat. Viva the sloth food movement!

*These tomatoes didn’t actually come from my yard, they were a windfall from a camping trip last weekend. But the tomatoes in my garden are doing really well so I expect I’ll be doing this again in a little while.

43 comments to Tomato Sauce From Scratch

  • Wow, what a great tutorial! I’ve only ever used jarred sauce, but this makes me want to make my own. It looks sooo much tastier than prego!

  • Anonymous

    For a while, I’ve been tempted to get one of those stainless steel food mills/tomato strainers. Donna Klein mentions them. Supposedly, they skin and seed your tomatoes automatically.


    Making sauce is one of the best things to ever make, I made a whole batch of it last year and plan on doing the same this year. After you make your own sauce you will never want to go back to the jar stuff.

  • holy yumpinies. that’s yum peen ies, not yumpiness, make sure you pronounce it correctly.

    i bet that sauce was fucking amazing.


  • Innochka

    I thought the Veganomicon Marinara Sauce was the best sauce I have ever had. Now I can’t wait to try it this way.

  • yum–one of my favorite things to do (though i skip it and make salsa fresca for my pasta in the summer or my unA/C’d kitchen is unbearably hot!).

    trust me on this tho: add a whole jalapeno (or two, depending on how much you’re making) to the pot. when the sauce is done, fish it out and either mash it and return it, or mash it and save it separately for folks who like a little spiciness. delish!

  • Diane

    Using a food mill makes it somewhat easier but you don’t get any chunks of tomato like you can with using a blender. I’ve made it both ways and like a smooth sauce better with canned tomatoes. But that’s just me.

    Oregano and thyme sounds like a good combination. I’ve also tried basil with a small amount of mint. I think it gives it a very fresh taste, if added towards the end of cooking.

    Great topic! I’m anxious for tomato season to be in full swing now.

  • Looks like amazing sauce!

    I’ve got to ask, just because you are Isa. What is in the oven at 350?

  • That looks beeyooteefull.

  • IsaChandra

    Thanks y’all! I thought this blog post was really uninspired cause I was tired when I wrote it, but I really hope it influences people to make sauce!

    Asstrogirl my love, there are peppers and garlic roasting in the oven.

  • My eye-talian in-laws have a room for tomatoes once they’re ripe and ready for saucing.

    An entire *room*.

    So I can see how three dozen tomaters would yield two jars’ worth. Two AWESOME jar’s worth!

  • yummy…..that’s all i got.

  • Hey Isa!
    That last picture is gold!
    I come as a stranger, uh, like a “long time listener, first time caller,”* to ask how one goes about perhaps getting their foodblog on your blogroll here? I thought it might make sense since all us vcon and vwav-heads always seem to want to see more pictures of those recipes, and I post about them pretty often…
    No worries if you’d prefer to keep it streamlined!

    *I guess technically a second time caller, ’cause I think I commented on the nooch snorting entry…

  • Looking good. My mama actually made tomato sauce from scratch. And she’s no where near being Italian.

  • JohnP

    Another vote for a food mill (of the “Foley” type). Easy, low-tech, and you’ll be rid of skins and seeds with much less fuss. When I was a kid, my parents planted (literally) over 200 tomato plants every year, and I have put a LOT of tomatoes through a food mill.

  • IsaChandra

    I think a food mill is fine and all, but for a small operation like this, especially if you’re not going to do it very often, this method works just great.

  • Gathering leftovers! These made up the rest of my portland/airplane based meals.

  • Peppers and onions- perfect!

    I think I really will have to breakdown and try making my own sauce now.

  • Nisi

    My father planted 24 tomato plants in my yard last year and the yield was huge! Anyway – not knowing what else to do I set about making sauce to keep for the winter. Here’s an alternate (and not as time consuming, maybe) way to do the same…

    I washed all the tomatoes and cut them into quarters or sixth – not too small pieces. Oh, take out the stem end bit. I put the pieces in a stock pot and cooked them a bit.

    When they were heated, I put them through a food mill. I bought a stainless steel one for about $25. The food mill presses the pulp through but separates the seeds and the skin. If you don’t feel like investing in a food mill (which, to be honest, I haven’t used for anything else) you can blanch, peel and deseed the tomatoes.

    I milled it right into a saucepan that I put on the oven. Here I added some salt, some basil leaves (fresh) and NOT more (but perhaps less) than 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda. This is also important! I can’t stand sauces with sugar in them (sorry!) because it tastes different from “what mamma used to make” and to me sauce with sugar ends up tasting like grocery-store sauce. The baking soda cuts down the acidity but for the love of tomatoes, please use only a very little bit or you will be able to taste it!

    I let the tomato puree to simmer until it had reduced significantly (let’s say 20-30%). Don’t forget to stir it frequently or it might stick.

    In the meantime I heated some oil in my largest skillet (the one I have is sort of wok shaped) and fried some leeks over medium heat. Not onion, not garlic but leeks*. Trust me on this one. But you can use onions or garlic if you choose.

    When the leeks were nicely softened I transferred the simmering puree to the skillet. I let this simmer (lower the heat) until the oil pools on the surface a bit, probably another 20 minutes (since it’s already been reduced when in the saucepan) or until it tastes delicious. Enjoy!

    One batch probably took 90 minutes start to finish and I had about 1 to 1.5 litres of sauce to put in jars.

    This is very simple sauce to which you can add just about anything, like saut?ed mushrooms or zucchini or pesto (grind up some basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil and YUM!). I put it in jars and had some all winter.

    *Leeks are new to my mother’s repertoire. I guess they are more of a northern European thing and my parents are from Italy. My parents accidentally planted leeks in their yard one year thinking they were garlic because of the flat shoots. When they harvested them and they looked like giant spring onions, they were confused. They asked their (also Italian) neighbour if he knew what they were and he said, “it looks like an onion.” To which my mother replied, “yeah, but it has flat shoots like garlic.” So he said, “I guess you have bad onions!”

    My mother went grocery shopping the next week and came home to tell me that “those bad onions are called leeks!” She made me look it up in the English-Italian dictionary. They are called “porro”, which she recognized as a word (but not as a vegetable!).

  • sewster

    Actually, my mom, who is Sicilian, never puts sugar in her sauce because she insisted that was what “the Northerners” do (those Italians from above Sicily). For years I never put any sugar at all, but recently have discovered it’s a real good thing! A little goes a long way.

    Great post.

  • Jenna

    Thanks for sharing this! Most of the homemade sauce recipes I’ve found on the web tend to use tomato paste. I’ve been looking for an entirely homemade one like this for a while!

  • mama kim

    hey isa — if you’re growing any paste/roma tomatoes, check out the recipe in deborah madison’s ‘vegetarian cooking for everyone’ (i think) for roasted tomato sauce. it’s crazy easy and low on labor and it yields delicious sauce. no peeling, no seeding, no pain in the ass. it’s awesome. are you canning or pickling anything else this year?

  • IsaChandra

    Hey kim! Yeah, I make a roasted tomato sauce. I just really wanted to do this the complicated way. Michelle and I plan on canning berries sometime in August, you should come over and can with us!

  • I have a TON of tomatoes growing this year, and I’m planning on making some sauce. This just made me quite excited!

  • It looks very nice! And I think it should be a perfect sauce for cooking pasta!

  • Kristy

    Wow, beautiful! And this brings back memories of the 3-generation operation we had going in my grandma’s basement when I was little. After scoring the tomatoes and dropping them in the boiling water, we didn’t bother to keep time, though; the rule was, you left them immersed for just enough time to say the Hail Mary. Deliciousness and redemption all at the same time.

  • Ashley

    Do you know approximately how many pounds of tomatoes you had ? I’d like to try this!

  • Anonymous

    It is the most tasty awesome sauce, that I have ever yet made. I started with about 5 pounds of tomatoes and ended with 12oz of sauce. (I cooked it down though 4hours by ‘crock-pot)

  • karen

    i’ve been making lots of tomato sauce this summer. i like to put about a cup of basil leaves, 4 cups of spinach, a sprig of fresh thyme and 4 sprigs of fresh oregano in my food processor, blend it up, and mix it into my tomato sauce. I add the garlic, salt, and sugar, but no onions. Once I used kale in place of the spinach, plus a cup of cashews chopped up into fine pieces in the food processor. That’s was a good pasta sauce, too.

  • […] grew out of control. It was perfect timing because Isa had just posted her entry about making tomato sauce. We didn’t have as many tomatoes so it didn’t take quit as long, but it was a good […]

  • anon

    I found that you can puree the tomatoes whole with skins. If you let them blend enough, there is really no skin left to speak of, and most of the seeds vanish too. It will be more watery than the deseeded version, but that can be remedied with tomato paste or just extra cooking. This saves the time of blanching, peeling, seeding, and might encourage you to do it more often since that is a big mess and takes a while.

  • Dawnie

    One of the other ways to peel tomatoes that I learned from my BF’s Italian family — freeze the tomatoes. Once they are frozen, all you have to do is peel them under running water and the skins come right off. Then through them in a ginormous pot and cook them down into sauce! This is really nice if you’ve bought a gazillion tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market and are craving fresh tomato sauce in the middle of the winter.

  • I love the idea of this sauce, but I do love the nutrition value of the skin and seeds as well. Try roasting whole tomatoes with coarse salt and olive oil under your broiler. I really love a chunky sauce, my husband a smooth sauce; so to meet in the middle, I just dice half the end result up, and puree the other half like anon suggests for the smooth consistency you are looking for.

  • I had about 10 tomatoes sitting in my fridge going bad, so I figured I’d get rid of them with this recipe. So far, so good!

  • […] about this dish is it’s fast (if you prefer to make spaghetti sauce from scratch, check out this recipe for marinara sauce), flavorful and you can kick up the heat as much as you like by crushing or […]

  • Leah

    Aw, I can remember this from when I was growing up. It was so much fun to get covered in tomato juice with my mom and sister at the end of every summer! As soon as I have a yard again, tomatoes are the first thing I’ll plant. <3

  • […] I had to refine my search. Then I cam across this blog post Tomato Sauce From Scratch. I read it and was going, “yep, I remember that… and that…. and […]

  • […] need fancy expensive ingredients either to make excellent comfort food. One of my favorites is homemade tomato sauce cooked for an entire afternoon, all you’ll need are tomatoes, an onion, garlic, and spices. […]

  • Ratatouille

    First time experimenting with my own tomato sauce, it was quite yummy, I’m pretty happy. I made it for an Italian dinner. My family and I had a fabulous time. Also it´s very good for me, because my heart, at breakfasts and served with the snacks, LOL. It´s hard to believe but my son always wants to eat ham served with my vegan recipes.

  • Thank you for sharing this idea, I am a vegan for about 4 months now and this is perfect to add on my food list.

  • This was so nice i already made this recipe and i loved it!

  • It´s hard to believe but my son always wants to eat ham served with my vegan recipes.

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