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Garlicky Heirloom Tomato Sauce

Late summer tends to be prime tomato season. Are you still seeing tomatoes available at your local farmers' markets and grocery stores? If so, grab about six pounds and make yourself some tomato sauce from scratch!

Here are the advantages:

1. This tomato sauce is sooo delicious, you could eat a cup of it, straight up. Seriously, it's so good, it could easily double as a soup. The flavor you get from using fresh, ripe tomatoes is incomparable.

2. It's surprisingly easy! See below for simple instructions.

3. You get to control ALL the ingredients in your tomato sauce.

  • Low oil means fewer calories and less artery clogging
  • Low sodium is better for your health. You can adjust the salt to your taste, and chances are you won't need as much as commercially available brands tend to use.
  • No added sugar is a big plus, too. It's not easy to find tomato sauce in a jar at the supermarket without oil or sugar.

3. Cooking a big pot of this sauce will fill your house with a mouthwatering aroma.

4. Excellent batch cooking. You can freeze it in small portions for a quick defrost on busy weeknights.

  • Red lentil pasta primavera, for example, can easily come together in 20 minutes. Just boil the pasta, sauté some veggies and toss it all together with your homemade sauce. Top with a sprinkling of pine nuts. Gourmet meal in minutes. Go you!

You will have tomato sauce on hand for many meals to come (depending on your family size). This recipe produces a large pot of sauce.

Sold? Ok then, let's get started.

Ingredients

  • 6 lbs ripe organic heirloom tomatoes (any variety)
  • 10 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 7 oz tomato paste (see note below)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

Instructions

1. We'll take care of the garlic first. You have two options: You can sauté the garlic, or roast it.

  • Sauté method: In a small frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Stir the garlic occasionally, until it’s just starting to brown.
  • Roasting method: In a heatproof bowl toss the garlic pieces with the olive oil and stir to coat. Roast the garlic in the oven or toaster oven at 425 degrees F, until it begins to brown.

2. While the garlic is cooking, we'll address the tomatoes. Quarter the tomatoes, then pull the out the seeds with your fingers and discard them. Toss the tomatoes into your blender, and blend on high speed for about a minute, or until smooth.

For six pounds of tomatoes, I find it helpful to blend them in two batches, because they may not all fit in the blender at once.

If you prefer your tomato sauce to be completely smooth rather than have chunks of garlic in it, add the sautéed or roasted garlic to the blender as well; otherwise, save the garlic for the next step.

3. Pour your liquid tomatoes into a large stock pot.

4. Add the tomato paste, basil and salt to the pot, and if you didn’t already blend the garlic with the tomatoes, then transfer the garlic to the pot as well.

5. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer the sauce for about an hour. Stir occasionally, all the way to the bottom of the pot, to make sure it’s not sticking.

6. The tomato sauce is done when you say it is. Once the consistency is thick, carefully taste the sauce (don't burn yourself!) to see if it has reached your preferred flavor and texture. This is a good time to adjust the salt to your taste, if necessary. Add a little bit at a time... you can always add more, but you can't take it out.

And that's it! See how simple it is? And sooo yummy.

Additional Notes:

The Trouble with Canned Tomatoes

Many families who make their own tomato sauce do it with canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones. This is extremely convenient due to shelf life; obviously, fresh tomatoes are perishable. However, this convenience comes at a price.

Tin cans are lined with a resin coating that contains bisphenol-A, commonly known as BPA. Acidic foods in particular, such as tomatoes, break down the resin, causing the can to leach BPA into the food it contains.

Unfortunately, BPA is a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to an alarming number of health problems, such that the FDA banned its use in baby bottles several years ago.

According to University of Missouri endocrinologist and BPA specialist Frederick vom Saal, PhD, “You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that’s a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young. I won’t go near canned tomatoes.”

Additionally, some brands of canned tomatoes also contain chemical preservatives and a large quantity of sodium, so always check the label.

All of these concerns are valid for any canned food, so it’s a good idea to buy fresh foods and dry goods (beans, lentils, etc.) whenever possible.

But if this is not an option, look for tomatoes, broths and other liquid foods packaged in Tetra-Paks or glass jars instead of cans.

For example, the brand Bionaturae sells organic, preservative-free tomato paste with no salt added, in glass jars, which you can buy at Vitacost.

Freezing Your Leftover Sauce

An excellent way to freeze extra tomato sauce is using pint-sized Ball jars (Mason jars).

Because the sauce is a liquid, though, you'll want to leave a good 1-2 inches of space at the top, so that the liquid has room to expand as it freezes. That way, it won't crack the glass. If your Ball jar has a shoulder, be sure to leave 1-2 inches of space below the shoulder.

Alternatively, the Ball company makes 8-oz plastic freezer jars that are super easy to use, without the fear of glass breakage.

Of course, it's nice to opt for glass over plastic whenever possible for environmental reasons. But you have to pick your battles and find what works for you.

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