Tip Of The Week–Making Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce ©Kevin Ashton
Tomato Sauce ©Kevin Ashton

If I was stranded on a desert island and trying to cook, the ingredient I would miss the most would be tomatoes, they are such a cornerstone ingredient in most western cuisines. And thus tomato sauce can make or break many dishes at yet people are nervous about making it. They choose instead to buy ready made sauce, to put in their bolognese sauce, or on homemade pizza and many other dishes.

The ready made sauces are the most expensive way to add a tomato sauce to a dish and you don’t get a better taste for the extra money. You get too much salt, sometimes unwanted sugar and often E numbers!!.

I want to convince you all to try just one time to make tomato sauce for yourself. I already have a tomato sauce recipe here that you can take a look at, but today I want more to talk about how simple a tomato sauce is to make.

Ingredients –various combinations of the following
Tinned chopped tomatoes
Fresh Garlic
Good Quality Olive oil
Fresh Tomatoes
Onion
Tomato Puree
Tomato Passata

Quick tomato sauce
Use a heavy bottomed saucepan.
Cook ½ diced an onion in 1Tbsp olive oil on a medium-low heat until it is tender but without colour. Add 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, then refill the can with water and add. Bash 1-2 cloves of garlic with the flat of a knife and add to the sauce.
Cook on a medium heat, stirring from time to time until most of the water has evaporated. Puree the sauce in your food processor on the pulse mode and season with salt and pepper.

If I add fresh tomatoes to my sauce I will usually blanch them first to remove the skins. First you make a crisscross on the bottom, which helps to get steam under the skin. You carefully drop them into boiling water for 10 seconds, then transfer them to ice water and the skin should easily come off.

Heirloom tomatoes
If I use fresh tomatoes then I will probably use a little tomato puree to help redden and enrich the sauce. If you use too much tomato puree the sauce can end up looking reddy-brown rather than a vibrant red.

Tomato passata is simply crushed cooked sieved tomatoes. The benefits are no E numbers and passata costs about a third of the price of icky ready-made sauces.
So if I am making a bolognese instead of adding the water (to the chopped tomatoes), I will add some passata to give the sauce volume.

Herbs
A wide variety of herbs (Basil, coriander, sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, tarragon) can give wonderful different tastes to you base tomato sauce; the key is to add it at the end. Use these herbs singularly so you can get to understand the different cuisines you mind conjures up when you taste them. For instance thyme would be French, perhaps Rosemary would lend itself to Spanish and Italian. Coriander in tomato sauce makes me think of Mexico and many other Central and South American cuisines.
Rosemary and Sage have a strong flavour so you need less than say a herb like Basil. Sage can work wonderfully in tomato sauce that is being used on meaty types of game fish such Tuna or Swordfish. Not forgetting all kinds of pork dishes.

Garlic
Sometimes I peel and finely dice garlic in dishes such as stir fry’s, but other times in tomato sauce I will break the clove open with the flat of a knife, peel the garlic and it straight to the sauce. This method has some advantages over finely chopped. First off your fingers don’t smell of garlic for a week, but the more important reasons are these; when finely diced garlic can burn very quickly and if it does you might as well start the sauce again. The other reason is it gives you the option to remove the garlic if you feel at that point it is garlicky enough for your tastes.

Do’s
Very finely diced carrots can add sweetness and body to a tomato sauce but too can help make the sauce look for orange than red.  Sometimes at the end of the cooking process a tomato sauce (depending on what it is being served with) can be enhanced with a tiny splash of good quality extra virgin olive oil. This can improve the “mouth feel” of the sauce with certain food that doesn’t have much fat in them like a seafood or chicken. For it to work, place your thumb over the top so you tightly control how much oil goes into the sauce.

Don’ts
Don’t whiz the sauce in your food processor for too long, it will lose its vibrant red colour.
Don’t add sugar or vinegar to your tomato sauce, those are ideas from the 1970’s and that’s where they should remain. There is plenty of natural sweetness and acidity already in tomatoes.

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