Baked Tomato Sauce

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AltonBrownBakedTomatoSauce.wmv150 bytes

It seems to me that every well-heeled garden eventually turns its caretakers into some semblance of Marge Piercy-ian Squash People, and the tomatoes, oh the tomatoes, how the the tomatoes do turn us ever into reverse beggars at the doors of friends and strangers, pleading for mercy that we might survive the night without drowning in our red, round, rubenesque rubies. Of course, we'd prepare and can them ourselves if only we had the time, right? Well worry no more, but give me a read and I'll let you in a quick little recipe to convert your burdonsome hoard into a delightful treasure with hardly any effort at all! Well... relatively little effort anyway. In my case, I also preserve the sauce for later use, which adds just a few more steps.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Metric Whack® Tomatoes, halved; enough to fill a roasting pan one layer deep.
  • ½ tsp. Kosher Salt.
  • 1 tsp. to 1 tbsp. Fresh Ground Pepper.
  • Herb Mix (fresh, fresh-frozen, or dried); enough to satisfy (I use ~2 tbsp. worth).
  • 3 tbsp. Olive Oil.
  • 1 to 2 Medium Onion per pan, finely diced.
  • 2 tbsp. Garlic, minced.

INGREDIENTS (optional / alternative)

  • 1 to 8 Hot Peppers; with a scoville scale that matches your sanity quotient (around three, in my case).
  • Bell Peppers (or any other vegetable that will bake well and add lovely flavors to your sauce and needed to be used up because why did you go through the toil and trouble to grow it in the first place if not to make something amazingly good - am I right or what?).
  • 2 tbsp. Acid (if canning) (e.g. brown rice vinegar, lemon juice).
  • ½ cup Wine (cheap white cooking wine, shiraz, whatev).

EQUIPMENT

  • Baking Sheet(s)
  • Cooking Pot
  • Blender (or Food Mill or Sauce Maker or whatev).

EQUIPMENT (optional / alternative)

  • Canning Equipment (if canning).
  • Extra wine (cheap white cooking wine, shiraz, whatev) (for medicinal purposes) (YOU know what I'm talkin' about).
  • Aluminum Foil (to protect the baking sheets).

PROCESS

My technique draws heavily on David Anderson's Baked Tomato Sauce recipe, which itself pulls from Alton Brown's method (ref. this wmv). The recipe is easy, the sauce is amazing, and the possibilities for experimentation are vast.

Like David, I use a variety of tomatoes for my sauce as they become available from the vine, but like Alton, I like to give it a little extra flavor punch with some wine. When canning, I also add a light acid (e.g. brown rice vinegar, lemon juice, etc).

The Baking Bit

Now would be a good time to preheat your oven to 325 °F (160 °C).

You'll be cutting each of the tomatoes in half and arranging them on the baking sheet. I've learned the hard way that it's a good idea to lay a sheet of aluminum foil over your baking sheets and to oil them before putting the tomatoes on; the baking process releases enough liquid and tomatoes have enough sugar that the pans will be burned and carbonized. If you have a mix of large and small tomato varieties, then start with the larger ones and space them more-or-less evenly on the pan. Then move progressively smaller, filling in all the gaps you can with each of the smaller ones.

If you have some peppers to spare, they make a nice addition to this recipe. Don any appropriate protective gear now. In this case, I've added three Thai Chilis, so to handle them and remove their seeds I'm wearing a Level 3 Hazmat Suit - you know the one - with the self contained atmosphere and a compliment of decon. tools. Here you see a close up of me handling the little devils in our specially prepared single-purpose facility tucked away in a little "sub-basement area" dug in about a mile below our domicile. Some day I'll have to post the directions on how to build your own such utility room on a budget.

If, like me, you have a large quantity of cherry tomatoes left over that won't fit at the big-boy table, then halve them all and arrange the lot on an additional baking sheet; they'll be going in an hour after the batch of bigger tomatoes, so you can put this step off if you wish to be economical with your time.

You'll want to add salt and leave them sit for a few minutes as this will draw out the moisture in preparation for baking. While in the dry heat of the oven, the tomatoes will bake without boiling, losing moisture and concentrating the flavor. Alton tells us that the we should scoop the seeds out because leaving them in will make our sauce bitter, but David (and others) claim that this is just folklore with no basis in fact. I suspect both are right to varying degrees, but I don't remove the seeds and find the resulting product none the worse for wear. If you're concerned about it, then I invite you to experiment and to please let me know what your findings are.

Spicing this mix is a matter of personal taste. Whether I'm canning or using it right away, I like the sauce to be ready as soon as I'm done processing it, so I'll be adding a lot of spices up front. We tend to freeze our herbs when they come out of the garden, so for this batch I've prepared a small handful of basil and oregano from our stores, all of which is mixed with olive oil and drizzled over the pan. Also, a healthy sprinkle of black pepper is a must, IMHO.

After the spices, you should cover it all with diced onions, minced garlic, and chopped veggies such as bell peppers. This will protect the herbs and add rich flavors all their own. Once assembled, place this in the oven for two hours.

Now to deal with our less resilient little red beauties. These will require significantly less bake time, but deserve all the same attention as as their bigger brethren. Load them up with onions, garlic, peppers, et al., and have them join the others in the oven in about an hour.

After the two hours are up, turn the oven up to 400 °F (160 °C) and let them all bake for another half hour. This will caramelize some of the sugar and finish off the baking.

The Blending Bit

When they come out of the oven, the fringes should be darkened to various degrees, but tomatoes should be mostly intact. Alton tells us to remove the skins at this point, but I like the countryfied look and feel provided by leaving them on... and besides, it's too much work.

Place the full batch (or as much as will fit) in a blender, food processor, or sauce maker, rendering it all into a mushy paste.

The Boiling Bit

Move this to a saucepan and cook on medium to low heat. I add half a cup of wine (to really bolster the flavor) and simmer / boil for about an hour before canning it. If you're canning, then add some acid in the form of lemon juice, brown rice vinegar, or whatever suits your fancy; you might get away with with not adding any, but tomatoes are low acid, so why risk it?

And voila! You've created an amazing tomato sauce without risking your cooking pot to stickage or taking all day to make, and it tastes like sultry baked tomatoes in herbs.