Homemade Spaghetti Sauce from Fresh Tomatoes
I seem to have found myself on a bit of a tomato kick these past few weeks! I can explain! The tomatoes I have been growing all summer didn’t start producing ripe tomatoes until halfway thru August and have been going strong since! With the end of the growing season imminent I have been trying to make the most of my abundant tomato harvest while I can.
Today I present another fantastic bulk tomato recipe: a basic Spaghetti Sauce made from fresh tomatoes! Spaghetti dinners have always been a favorite for me, even when I was a kid. I am sure this was one of the most vegetable heavy meals I would eat at that time. The major difference now? I have become accustom to making my own sauce 🙂 Somewhere along the line, I started to notice the salt more and more when using canned sauces, so a few years ago I decided to make my own!
One of my favorite things about homemade spaghetti sauce, is how few ingredients it actually takes. Don’t let the ingredient list on your favorite jarred sauce fool you! I am able to make a great spaghetti sauce using a variety of fresh tomatoes, homegrown basil, fresh garlic, fresh onion, dry oregano, homemade butter (yum!) and pantry staples salt and evoo. Today I am using a mixture of beefsteak, roma, grape, heinz, and san marzanos.
I’ll let you in on a little secret! The tomatoes above to the right were all discounted ‘ugly’ tomatoes from the end of season Farmers Market. I had to cut off a few blemishes and gave a few the ‘sniff test’ before using but overall, I think it was a great value considering they were $0.75/pound instead of $3/pound! I used about 50-60% ugly tomatoes today, but you would never know the difference from tasting the sauce! Ugly produce is tasty too!
Back to the recipe: I give all of the tomatoes a very rough chop, then add them to the blender. I use a food puree setting, which is a Ninja preset of slow-medium-high increments for 60 seconds. I am trying to get the tomato as smooth as possible before we strain it.
Once blended, I send the tomatoes thru my diy food mill. If you have a bona fide food mill in your kitchen then pull it out now! If not, I find that a bit of patience, a silicone spatula (flexible), a fine mesh strainer, and a big pot work very well too. A good thought analogy of this process is the tomato puree in the blender is like a full pulp orange juice, and the straining process leaves you with a smooth pulp free OJ. If having the tomato skin and seeds in your sauce is not a bother for you, then feel free to skip this step completely. Personally, I do not care for tomato seeds getting stuck in my teeth.
I tried to show the stages of straining. Basically:
- pour the tomato puree into the strainer
- use the spatula to ‘stir’ the puree while scraping the strainer at the same time
- have patience and keep doing this
- after about 5-10 minutes you end up with a thick pulp of tomato skin and seeds separated from the tomato juice
Since I typically think of spaghetti sauce as a smooth sauce (aka not chunky like salsa) I like to grate my onions. This is actually a trick I learned from Rachael Ray! She does this to add onion to her burgers to keep them extra juicy. I like the grated onion in my sauce because the flavor is there but the onion is so small you can’t see individual pieces. Be careful with the end of the onion when grating. I switch to a knife and give as fine of a dice as I can when I get down to only the end of the onion and the rings start to separate.
This is the best time to prep your garlic, salt, and oregano. The onion cooks quickly once we put it in the skillet.
Sidenote: you will very likely cry when grating the onion.
To start cooking, first melt your butter and add the onions. We want to cook the onions enough to get rid of the ‘raw’ flavor, but not so much as to caramelize or crispify them. The second picture in is what we want: just a light touch of brownness.
Next we mix in the garlic and cook for the standard “until aromatic” as garlic burns easily and quickly. As soon as you start smelling the garlic (probably 20-30 seconds after adding to the skillet) it is time to add the salt and oregano. Mix again and allow the flavors to mellow together. The onion moisture and melted butter combined with the heat help soften the oregano and drawl out the classic Italian flavor it provides, infusing that flavor into all bits of the sauce. My mouth is watering as I try to describe this 😛
Now that the onion/garlic/oregano mixture is cooked a bit, we are ready to add the strained tomato puree. Do this carefully to avoid splattering! I usually add about a quarter of the tomatoes, stir, then add the rest of the tomatoes.
A few things are happening as the sauce cooks down. First and most obviously, the tomatoes are cooking. Most importantly, they will loose the raw taste. Second, you may notice the color change from a bright tomato red to a deeper, slightly orange, red. The color change happens gradually if you are not paying attention, it would be easy to miss. Third, as we cook the sauce, the quantity will decrease as extra liquids evaporate. I let my sauce reduce down until I get a thicker consistency; you should cook it down until you get the consistency you prefer. I estimate I reduce my sauce by about half, and it typically takes 45 minutes to an hour.
Pro tip: if you choose a wider pot, it allows more surface area for evaporation, which can speed this process. I have a 3.5 quart braiser that works well for me (think large skillet with high sides).
Sometime during the sauce cooking process, you will want to cut the basil. I start by giving it a chiffonade cut, then run the knife thru the basil the other direction to get a dice. To chiffonade the basil, take the leaves and roll them into a bundle, then slice them into ribbons.
We are close! When the sauce is reduced to your desired consistency, it is time to turn off the heat and taste for additional needed salt. If needed, add salt, then add the basil and olive oil. Stir and allow the sauce to cool slightly. Fresh basil is delicate and does not need much cooking to get the extra something something it adds. Again, these are ingredients you add after the heat has been turned off.
Finally! The moment we have been waiting for! It is time to enjoy your freshly made sauce! This recipe is perfect to serve over your favorite shape pasta immediately or freeze in labeled freezer baggies for later consumption 🙂
Homemade Spaghetti Sauce from Fresh Tomatoes
- 6-8 pounds of fresh tomatoes
- 3-4 Tablespoons butter
- One grated onion
- 4-6 cloves minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- salt, 1 teaspoon + more to taste
- fresh basil, about 1/2 ounce
- 1 Tablespoon EVOO
- Clean and rough chop tomatoes
- Puree tomatoes in a blender – I used a 60 second Puree preset on my Ninja
- Strain liquids away from tomato skin/seeds using either food mill or fine mesh strainer
- Melt Butter, add grated onions, and cook thru until onions start showing faint signs of browning – about 3-4 minutes
- Add Garlic and cook until fragrant – about 20-30 seconds
- Add 1 teaspoon each of salt and oregano
- Carefully add all of the now pulp free tomato puree – add little by little and stir to minimize splattering
- Cook until thickened to your preferred sauce consistency – I reduce mine by about half in a 45-60 minute period
- Turn off heat
- Add more salt if needed, add the basil, and 1 Tablespoon of EVOO, cool for five minutes
- Enjoy now with pasta, or freeze for later consumption