This pasta sauce is one of the ways I capitalize on seasonal abundance to save time and money while ensuring there are yummy things to eat. Beautifully ripe tomatoes were only $3.50/kg at the farmers’ market yesterday, so we bought a couple of kgs. By the end of the day they were nine 2 cup portions of pasta sauce conveniently packaged for later use. The method is simple and took about 30 minutes preparation time and 45 minutes cooking time.
Wash the tomatoes. Remove the stalk with the tip of a vegetable knife and cut the tomatoes in half.
Place cut side up in a roasting dish and top with your favorite sauce flavorings.
I topped mine with: roughly chopped onion and celery; thyme still on the stalk; sage; bay leaves; olive oil; cider vinegar (it would also be nice with balsamic, but it is a much more expensive vinegar); plenty of salt and pepper.
Bake at about 180 degrees Celsius until the tomatoes are well and truly cooked. This took 45 minutes in my oven. This is hotter than I would cook tomato halves to serve whole on bread. At a cooler temperature (~160 degrees Celsius) the tomato halves will lose less of their juices. I also would not pack the tomatoes so tightly if they were going to be served whole, because with so many in the tray they are almost steaming each other rather than truly baking.
After baking the tomatoes you have a choice. Option 1 (as illustrated here) you can make a rustic sauce that includes skins and bits of onion and celery or option 2 (not illustrated, but also yummy) you can make a more refined sauce without bits and lumps in it. Instructions for each methods will be provided separately.
Option 1: pick off all the bits of herb stalk, bay leaf and singed herb that you don’t want to end up in your final sauce.
Option 2: leave all of these bits on for now.
Option 1: mash the tomatoes with a potato masher until you reach the desired consistency. You could also blitz the sauce in a food processor, but I am not too keen on what this does to the consistency and color of the sauce.
Option 2: press the tomatoes through a sieve capturing the sauce below. You should be as vigorous with this as your sieve can handle (smushing the roasted onion and celery through as well) to capture maximum flavor and ensure you get a lovely thick product. You will need to scrape your sieve clean several times. I have found with experience that crispy toasted thyme stalks have the habit of breaking up and making their way through the sieve, so I recommend you pick these out beforehand.
If you have followed option 1 and decided later to make a more refined dish, you can always push it through the sieve at that point.
I packed the pasta sauce into zip lock bags, allowed them to cool on the bench and then laid them flat in the freezer so they freeze in easily stackable thin square blocks. If you are pushed for space in the freezer you can bottle this sauce by reheating it in a pot to boiling point and packing it into hot sterilized jars before screwing on equally hot sterilized lids. Leave on the bench to cool out of the breeze and check your seal before stacking in the pantry.
I love this sort of thing – it makes great emergency ‘I just can’t face/don’t have the time to cook’ meal. If you come home from work wanting dinner in the time it takes to boil pasta, just pull one of these bags from the freezer, run it under the hot tap for a minute so the outside defrosts enough for you to squeeze the sauce from the bag into a pot. Put the pot on a medium heat and stir regularly. The sauce will defrost in no time. A favorite in our house is to take a couple of bags of sauce and poor them over meatballs that have been browned on the outside and put into a casserole dish. Place the meatballs in sauce into the oven for 30 min or so and you will have beautifully moist morsels ready to perch on top of spaghetti. You can turn this sauce into soup by heating it, blitzing half of it in a blender or using a stick blender to puree some of it, adding a dash of cream and serving hot with crusty bread.