Sunday, October 6, 2013

Keep It Simple, Sweetie!

There are many dishes that the abundant tomatoes of late summer can be used for, but finally we reach the moment when they simply need to be preserved for future use.  There are many methods that I've used, including dehydrating some plum tomatoes to be reconstituted for salads.  I haven't actually canned tomatoes in recent years because I have lots of freezer space, so I freeze them in several forms, including puree (cooked down, then put through a food mill) and Basil Tomato Sauce.

For many years I've used the Basil Tomato Sauce by itself and in combination (the Red Pepper Sauce and a rich complex ragu type spaghetti sauce that I have used the puree in as well).  But I wanted to explore some other options.

Perhaps I was the last person home cook in the Continental United States to discover Marcella Hazan's simple recipe for tomato sauce that is a galaxy away from my usual olive oil-garlic-spice based uses.  What I've learned is that her book,  Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking was central to reforming American cooking to utilize fresh produce and making food from scratch. Hazan died on September 29, 2013. In her obituary, her devotion to simplicity and fresh ingredients is stressed (a slightly different recipe for the famous tomato sauce is given there). She is quoted as saying, "Why not make it simple?"  Just before her death, I discovered this recipe and began experimenting with it.

The essence of the recipe is that it is startlingly simple and completely at odds with the palette of "Italian" flavors that we have become (perhaps too) familiar.  It consists of tomatoes, butter (not olive oil!), salt, and an onion that is removed before serving.

  One onion, five tablespoons of butter - that's it.

Apparently many people have made this with canned San Marzano tomatoes.  But I wanted to use my own tomatoes and I didn't want to keep all the seeds or to remove them by hand.

A friend who likes to make and can a huge amount of tomato sauce each year tipped me off to the use of a device often called a "sauce master" that uses a screw-type action and a screen to separate juice and pulp from seeds and skin.  There are several stand-alone versions but I found that my KitchenAid stand mixer has an attachment (the Fruit & Vegetable Strainer) which works much better.

Using this attachment, I produced 3 quarts of thin tomato purée from 6 pounds of very ripe tomatoes.  This then has to be concentrated slightly before using by cooking at low to moderate heat for about an hour, which reduces it to about half the volume.  I then used 3 cups of this (a total of 3 pounds of tomatoes!) to produce about 2 cups of dense sauce that is the very essence of tomato.  A little Parmesan, a little pasta, and you have a meal.  (This sauce does not have the faintly caramelized taste one obtains with tomato paste.)

Note the lush thickness of the sauce and how it adheres to the pasta. (Click on the image to get a closer look.)

Simple Tomato Sauce
modified from Marcella Hazan

3 cups tomato purée
One yellow or white cooking onion, peeled and cut in half
5 tablespoons butter
salt to taste

Place the pureé, onion and butter in a saucepan.  Cook at low to medium heat with occasional stirring until butter is well incorporated (a little layer of butter may appear at the top near the end, to be stirred back in) and the onion is cooked.  Remove the onion.  (It may be eaten separately or reserved for other use.)  Salt to taste (recall that tomatoes are rather salty on their own).

Use immediately.  I don't recommend storing or freezing this sauce.

Using a KitchenAid stand mixer with Fruit & Vegetable Strainer attachment 


Core the tomatoes and cut into quarters.  These must be pushed into the feeder with the supplied tamping tool.  A screw drives the seeds and skin out the end, while the pulp and juice come through the screen.

The housing for the screen channels the juice and pulp into a separate bowl.
 I found that the skin/seed material can be run through a second time.

Three quarts of tomato purée from six pounds of tomatoes

NOTE:  If you use Roma-type paste tomatoes instead of the more watery round tomatoes, the resulting puree is thick enough to use directly without concentrating it first.