Getting sauced
A sunny shot of summer all winter long

Getting sauced
Ari LeVaux - 10/08/2020

When summer ends, after I’ve eaten as many of the ripest, juiciest, most delicious tomatoes I could get my face on, I also make time to stash away those glorious fruits for year-round enjoyment. This comes in the form of a simple oven-roasted tomato sauce. I freeze this universal ingredient – shooting for quantities that will stretch through winter.

If my soup needs a little more tang, my sauce is just the thing. If it’s eggplant parmesan, tomato sauce is in the equation. On top of spaghetti, snuck into deer curry, make a whole pizza to feed the family, or toast my sauce on bread with cheese when I’m feeling lazy. With frozen sauce on hand, I’m a culinary man.

Toward the end of tomato season, the glorious red spheroids that are best for sauce are at their very cheapest. Anyone with a garden – or anyone with a neighbor with a garden – has tomatoes of their own right now, even as farmers are bringing more boxes than ever to market.

I don’t often go for deals at the farmers market. I usually don’t like bargaining with farmers, because they work too hard. But this time of year, they don’t want to bring home any boxes of tomatoes any more than you want a sauce-free winter. Wait until the tail end, and see if you and your favorite farmer can find a confluence of interests. They get some freedom from a box of tomatoes, and cash, and you get a project, and sauce.

For every 4 pounds of tomatoes, you’ll need an onion, three cloves of garlic, a red or yellow sweet pepper and a half-cup each of grated carrots and zucchini, so pick up those items while you’re there.

Don’t mess around with heirlooms because they have too much water and not enough acid. The shiny round orbs the color of sports cars are the tomatoes that make the best sauce. Big red tomatoes, small red tomatoes, red paste tomatoes.

This oven tomato sauce is a blank red canvas, ready to be customized as a sauce, or incorporated as an ingredient into something else.

Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce

Makes 1 quart 

4 pounds small red tomatoes, cut in half; or larger tomatoes cut into quarters

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced or grated

1 cup minced onions

2 sweet peppers, cleaned, cut in quarters

Optional: ½ cup shredded zucchini and 1/2 cup shredded carrots

½ teaspoon fresh rosemary

½ teaspoon fresh thyme

Lay tomatoes on a baking sheet, cut sides down. Sprinkle with the salt, drizzle with olive oil, and bake in center of oven under the broiler on high, until the peels start to shrivel and shine – about 40 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the tomatoes to cool to the point where you can pick off the skins. If the pepper skins are willing to come off, take them. Add the peppers, onions, garlic and optional other veggies and herbs and stir it all together and return the sheet to the oven. Turn it from broil to bake at 400, and bake another 30 minutes, stirring once or twice more as the sauce cooks down.

When all of the tomatoes have completely left behind their former shapes, and the mixture approaches a homogeneous consistency, turn off the heat and allow the sauce to cool to room temperature in the oven, ideally overnight. In the cool morning, puree the sauce in a blender for a smoother, prettier look that I believe freezes better than chunky sauce.

Transfer the sauce to freezerware or bags, filling each container to leave as little air as possible. Freeze great quantities. Roast and repeat. Thaw early, thaw often, all the way through the winter. n

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