There is making things from scratch … and then there is making them from harvest to jar or, in my case, from seed to jar. And as satisfying as all my preserves have been, there was nothing more satisfying than making my own marinara sauce with the tomatoes I grew myself.
While the recipe that follows can certainly be adapted to use store-bought canned tomatoes (instructions below include this option) and while instructions are also given on how to make ‘just’ a litre/quart of sauce, what I personally undertook was the opportunity to use up 7lbs of Roma tomatoes that I’d accumulated in my freezer this summer/fall (ingredient quantities also include this option). I only grew one Roma plant this year, the first time I’ve ever grown Roma tomatoes (aka “plum” or Italian). While a little slower to ripen in my over-crowed bush of a plant, this single plant was bountiful.
As you can see from recipes throughout the later summer, I cooked from it plenty but even at that, I couldn’t use all of the fruit it gave so I started accumulating tomatoes in my freezer. Every week, I’d shuttle the excess tomatoes I couldn’t use into freezer bags before they spoiled thinking I’d wait until fall to turn them into something based on whatever I had in my freezer. I never expected for a minute that my freezer would end up packed with 50lbs of tomatoes of all descriptions, so let’s just say it was a busy weekend. But for my prized Roma tomatoes, thick in meat and low in seeds and water, I wanted to do something extra special and especially “Italian.” What could be better than making a rich, fully-flavoured Marinara sauce, from scratch, harvested from the Italian tomatoes I had grown myself?
There are some interesting advantages to freezing the tomatoes first before processing with the one negative being that, in the canning process, the pre-frozen fruit tends to separate from the liquid for an awkward aesthetic in the jar but one which isn’t permanent as the sauce reconstitutes when heated again.
However, the positives of using pre-frozen tomatoes include that when taking a frozen tomato and running it under hot water for a few seconds, the skin slides right off with your fingers … and without need of blanching. The other advantage is that in a semi-frozen state, you can actually squeeze the fruit and remove some of the excess water (without loss of tomato) very easily. Though this process does freeze the hands, it cuts down on the need for longer cooking (to reduce the water) and means for a more flavourful and healthier sauce that didn’t need to cook as long. I don’t expect most of your are starting with bags of frozen tomatoes in your freezer, however, so I’ve interpreted my own recipe to assume fresh (or canned) tomatoes as your starting point. I’m fairly confident in this conversion of 6 Roma tomatoes to 2-cups sauce based on all the tomatoes I prepared this summer (for example: Stuffed Spaghetti Squash with Black Bean Ragù). And while I did remove the inedible skin, I did cheat with this and did not bother seeding the tomatoes: I did this because I had already squeezed water from them and because the Romas don’t have a lot of seeds … and because I knew I was going to put this through the blender which would take care of whatever few seeds remained.
Also note that even if you’re canning this sauce, this will freeze just as well or you can eat it all up. However, I do recommend making it in quantity because the work isn’t in peeling a few tomatoes — there isn’t much work in this at all, actually — but rather it is the time it to cook this … and that time is the same whether using 12 tomatoes or 48. The great thing is that once you’ve made the base Marinara sauce, you now have an adaptive sauce that you can do almost anything with: you can serve it as is over mussels; add olives and some capers and serve it over pasta; or you can add some wine and oil to it and serve it over some wonderful veal (as seen here) or play with some variation of this for the most flavourful pizza sauce you’ll ever taste ….
The sky is the limit, really, but make it and tell me if it isn’t the best Marinara sauce you’ve ever tasted.
Prep time: 15-20 minutes (more or less depending on how many tomatoes you use)
Cook time: 60 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes
Servings: 8 → ∞
Marinara Sauce … from harvest to scratch
For 1 Quart/Litre of Sauce:
- 12 Roma tomatoes (blanched and peeled)
→ 3½ cups canned Italian tomatoes
- 1/3 cup onion, diced
- 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 Tablespoon fresh basil, coarsely chopped
→ approx. ½ teaspoon dried basil
- 1/4 sprig fresh rosemary
- Pinch of chili flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
- 1/4 cup red wine (optional)
For 7-8 Pints of Sauce:
- 7lbs (4-dozen) Roma tomatoes (blanched and peeled)
- 1 large onion cup onion, diced
- 1 whole red bell pepper, diced
- 1 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1/2 or 1 teaspoon chili flakes (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
- 1 cup red wine (optional)
- Prepare your Roma tomatoes by cutting a shallow-X across the bottom and then blanching them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Immediately transfer them to cold water to remove the skins.
- Gently squeeze the peeled tomatoes to remove excess water and add them to a 4-5 quart pot.
- Over medium heat, begin to cook the tomatoes until ‘water’ starts to well up in the pot.
If cooking the 7lbs version of the recipe, carefully pour off about 1-inch (2cm) of water and continue cooking.
- Continue cooking over medium heat until the tomatoes naturally look ‘crushed’ or stewed (about 25-30 minutes).
- Meanwhile, use this time to prepare the other ingredients: herbs, onion, bell pepper, garlic, and spices.
- Add all ingredients except the optional olive oil and wine to the pot and continue cooking another 20 minutes.
- Once all onions are well cooked and the sauce has reduced, remove it from the heat, and, in batches, process sauce in a good quality blender: careful not to fill the blender more than half-full to avoid having hot sauce explode over you and your kitchen.
→ Important: do not over-process the sauce. Process for 10 seconds on low and then, increasing speed, process for another 10 second on high. You know you have processed long enough when any seeds disappear but you otherwise want the tomato sauce to still have some texture to it. You are not creating tomato foam.
- Taste for salt and seasoning at this point.
- Optionally, return some or all the sauce to the pot and add olive oil and wine to sauce and cook for 10 minutes more and it’s done. You can either pressure-can this, freeze it, or eat it all up. Use your imagination and welcome to Italy!
→ Caution: if you do decide to can this, make sure you use a pressure canner and follow manufacturer’s instructions (e.g. 15 minutes at 10psi) since the add veggies etc will change the pH level of this sauce and require high-pressure canning.