This is the year of the lazy garden. The year I only half-way planted, half-way weeded, and hardly ever watered. While a number of things didn’t grow (as was to be expected!), there were a number of delightful surprises.
I easily filled two big pans’ worth of tomatoes after just 10-15 minutes of picking from my two bushes. This year, I grew one Roma and one beefsteak variety. Now, what to do with them?
In the past, I have canned garden tomatoes, but truth be told, it was just too easy for me to forget about/not use them. I’ve also simply frozen tomato puree. But there again, I didn’t really end up using that either. This year I decided to consider, “What do we actually eat with tomatoes?” Waste not, want not, right?
And what I came up with: spaghetti sauce. After all, I buy and use it regularly. So I decided to turn my 15 pounds of garden tomatoes into sauce. I’d like to share with you the steps I took to make my sauce in case you’re looking to do something similar. I modified this spaghetti sauce recipe I found at Food.com. Of course, you can modify the flavors to suit your tastes, or the amount of tomatoes you happen to have as I did!
Don’t have a garden? You can often find great deals on boxes of tomatoes at the farm stands or farmer’s market this time of year, so don’t count yourself out.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 10-15 pounds of fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped (see below)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 medium onions, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 1/2 cup thinly sliced basil
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- salt and pepper, to taste
Start by prepping your tomatoes! This is arguably the most tedious (and messy!) part of the recipe.
The best way to peel your tomatoes is to briefly submerge them in boiling water until you see the skins start to peel (usually takes about 10 seconds tops, if you’ve got a nice rolling boil). From there, drop them immediately into a bowl of cold water. The skins will peel right off! (For more on this method, see my post on How to Freeze Tomatoes.)
I wasn’t worried about chopping my tomatoes up too small or two pretty. As they cook, they quickly cook down and break apart anyway. Some of the smaller tomatoes I didn’t even bother chopping up at all.
With your tomatoes set aside, saute your onions in a heavy skillet in the olive oil. I like to get mine nice and golden in color, without browning or burning them. This took me about 5-6 minutes. At this point, season with the salt, pepper, and throw in your garlic and cook for a minute or so longer. (Incidentally, I find garlic burns rather quickly. This is why I always cook down the onions first and then throw in the garlic for just the last bit. Cooks perfect every time this way.)
In a heavy stockpot (this one is around $30 on Amazon with great reviews), add the chopped tomatoes, the cooked onions and garlic, the sugar and your chopped herbs. It’s going to seem very watery at first, but don’t worry. It will cook down! Bring to a nice boil, and them simmer. The original recipe I had suggested cooking for about a couple hours, but that original recipe was also only for 4 lbs of tomatoes. I just kept simmering, and simmering, and simmering…probably for 4 or 5 hours, until the liquid had gone down considerably and I was left with a thicker sauce.
So heads up if you are hoping to make this recipe: while it’s easy to assemble, make it on a day you’ll be around the house for awhile! It takes some time.
Here’s my finished sauce. Can you see how much liquid was reduced by all that simmering? As I’m freezing my sauce, I ended up throwing the whole pot in the fridge overnight to thoroughly cool it. This does three things: 1) it makes it easier to handle, 2) it won’t burn and compromise my freezer bags and 3) it will freeze faster. Faster freeze = better food quality!
Here’s my tip for pouring sauce into bags: use a blender/smoothie type bottle and line it with the bag, as pictured above. It will make your life SO much easier. Trust me!
I put roughly 2.5 – 3 cups per sauce in each bag. I also opted to use gallon size as that’s the quantity I’m most likely to use in any given recipe. (PS – Need freezer bags? Amazon has a wide selection of gallon freezer bags at good prices with Subscribe & Save, like these Glad Freezer Bags for about 10¢ each. Otherwise your local warehouse club no doubt has a solid price on freezer bags bought in bulk.)
My 15 pounds of tomatoes yielded me roughly 20 cups of sauce, which I am freezing in (7) 1-gallon freezer bags! I’m very pleased with that result.
The picture above illustrates how I prefer to freeze my sauce. Right now, I have them stacked just two deep since they are still completely liquid. Once they are frozen solid, I’ll be easily to stack them higher.
Here are a few ideas I came up with for how to use my homemade spaghetti sauce:
- With spaghetti and meatballs, of course!
- Over spaghetti and served with breaded chicken Parmesan
- Combine with alfredo sauce for a creamy tomato sauce
- Combine with chicken broth and cream for a tomato bisque
- Use in casseroles or fall meals like chili and lasagna
If you’re dealing with lots of tomatoes, you might also want to see…
How to Freeze Tomatoes. Perfect if you have a bounty and less time/energy to deal with them!
How to Can Tomatoes from your Garden. Got the time, the energy and the motivation to can? Here’s my post on how I did it.