Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tomato Sauce from Scratch

Unless you are a fairly big-deal cook with a pasta machine, I really can't encourage you to make pasta from scratch. However, I would be pleased to encourage you to make tomato sauce from scratch, because although it sounds like a pain in the ass, it's actually both very easy and very impressive, which means you probably ought to make it.

The reason making tomato sauce from scratch sounds like a pain in the ass is because every other recipe for it that you will ever see besides this one tells you to cook the tomatoes for four hours. Now, I for one know that having tomatoes cooking on the stove while one goes about one's daily routine of abstract websurfing and frenetic checking of email is not a possibility, so I decided to see what happens if you cook the blessed things for only one hour. And you know what happens? It comes out great. I'll grant you that it doesn't look exactly like the stuff that comes out of a jar, but why on earth would you want it to when you made it from scratch?

Anyway, you will need the following:

15 tomatoes (varying sizes is fine)
3 large white onions
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 fat cloves garlic
1 bunch basil (to your taste)
olive oil
salt and pepper

I know 15 tomatoes is quite a lot, but I assure you that carrying them from the grocery store to wherever you have to carry them to is the very hardest part of doing this recipe. And you don't even have to worry so much about choosing good tomatoes, because slightly mushy ones are fine in tomato sauce.

So. First you're going to peel the tomatoes. Remember when I showed you here how to peel tomatoes? You don't? Good, because that's not how to do it. I started off doing it that way, but quickly realized that slicing the peel off 15 tomatoes with a knife was not going to happen. So I did some research, by which I mean I googled "peel tomatoes fast," and lo and behold, there is a much, much faster way to do it, as follows:

Bring a pot of water to a boil and immerse the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 15 seconds:

Remove tomatoes to a bowl of cold water that you have conveniently placed in the sink:

A slotted spoon is useful for scooping the tomatoes out of the hot water, but any big spoon will do. When the tomatoes are cool enough to touch, you can peel the skin right off, easy as that. It's actually sort of fun, like peeling glue off your fingers. Actually, you can already see the peel starting to come off the biggest tomato in that picture there.

Once the tomatoes are all peeled, cut them in half and scoop the seeds out, then roughly chop the flesh, which is the part you want. You don't have to chop it up real tiny or anything, just get it into chunks.

When you've done that, chop up the onions, then put them in a big soup pot with some olive oil (twice around the pan will do). Cook the onions over medium heat for 15 minutes, until they're turning golden brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, cover the pot and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer 45 minutes. Once that's done, add the tomato paste (you can increase the quantity of this if you like your sauce a bit more sauce-y), a generous amount of salt and pepper, and the garlic. If you've got a garlic press, press the garlic into the sauce. If not, chop it up small or just toss the cloves in whole. You can add the basil at this stage like I did, or you can wait until the end and use it as garnish, which in my opinion is a bit of nonsense and not very tasty, but will make you seem a very sophisticated gourmet.

Anyway, cover the pot again and simmer another 15 minutes. And that's it! You have succeeded in making tomato sauce from scratch. This recipe makes four portions, but it's probably the perfect amount for two people to have two helpings with some left over.

With respect to serving, I think it's nice to serve the sauce simply, with pasta and some fresh mozzarella, like so:

I know that looks a bit jokes because I used macaroni, but if you were to use fettucini or penne, I think it would be rather elegant. And you really can't invite anyone over and serve them this same thing but with tomato sauce out of a jar. I mean if you do that you might as well show them your dirty underwear.

With tomato sauce from scratch, on the other hand, this is a meal fit for someone whom you think should receive very refined treatment. For example, if you are middle aged, you can make it for your mother-in-law. If you are quarter-aged like I am but have all your shit together, you can make it for a stay-at-home date with your significant other. If you are me, you can conjure up an elaborate fantasy about a stay-at-home date with a very dashing and worthy significant other, then eat all four portions yourself.


  1. Nice link to previous blog about peeling tomatoes.

  2. Would that be all four portions in one go? :D
    Add a couple of chili peppers to that recipe and you have a Penne, or in this case Macaroni, Arrabiata.

  3. I've never made pasta sauce with fresh tomatoes before... I shall have to try this!

  4. Yup, all four portions in one go. The very best way to enjoy this sauce.

  5. Just curious Jennie, but why fresh tomatoes instead of good quality canned?

  6. Of course you can use canned if you want to, but the fresh ones are really much tastier and it only takes a few minutes to prepare them. Also, if you use canned tomatoes, I think you would be hard-pressed to honestly say you made tomato sauce from scratch.

  7. I kind of want to try making this... but I'm such a lazy cook, and when I do it is only to impress someone. And I have nobody to impress :(. I didn't even realise you could make it before though, so you taught me something... I thought it was one of those magic things that just appears in a jar.

  8. Oh come now Andy, don't let the fact that you have nobody to impress stop you. Just be like me and eat it all yourself.