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Make it Yourself Monday: Pasta Sauce

Now is the time of year you can get a glut of tomatoes that don't cost you your firstborn... or even better, harvest them from your own garden.  But what to do with them all?  Well, I went over that in my last post, but one of my favorite ways to put up tomatoes is to make pasta sauce.

 Making your own pasta sauce is easier than you think, and if you make a big batch and can it you can use it for the rest of the year.  It is tastier than the sauces you can buy in the grocery store and you avoid any unsavory additives.  You can make it to suit your own tastes (within limits, don't mess with the proportions in the recipe I give you unless you plan to pressure can, as you can mess up the acidity).

Pesto is another pasta sauce that I like to make myself.  It is super expensive to buy at the store, but if you grow your own basil and know where to source your pine nuts and your parmesan cheese you can get the same quality without the high price tag.

So here you are, two recipes for the price of one this week:)

Pasta Sauce
Makes about 8 pints
  • 12 lbs tomatoes
  • 3 medium onions, diced
  • 4 medium peppers, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 T. brown sugar
  • 2 T. kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 T. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 c. fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 c. fresh oregano, chopped
  • 8 T. lemon juice, or 1 T. per pint
  • 2 6 oz. cans of tomato paste (optional)
  1.  Peel and seed the tomatoes- bring a big pot of water to boil, and fill a bowl with cold tap water (and ice if you have it, but it's not 100% necessary).  Drop several tomatoes into the boiling water and boil until the skins begin to split, or about 1 minute.  Quickly transfer the tomatoes to the cold water until they are chilled through.  The skins should slip right off- you may need to cut a slit to get them started.  To seed the tomatoes, cut the tomato in half horizontally (not through the stem, across the equator, so to speak) and the seeds should all fall out- you may have to help a little with your fingers.  If you find this process tedious or plan to put up a lot of tomato products, check out one of these contraptions.
  2. If you didn't use a mill for your tomatoes, dice them before putting them into a large (really large- 8 quart or more) stock pot over medium heat, preferably not one of those lightweight enameled aluminum ones- you're going to be simmering this sauce a while, and light bottomed pot is more likely to scorch.  Trust me, you don't want that.
  3. Add the onions, peppers, garlic, brown sugar, salt, vinegar, and black pepper.  Mash the tomatoes until they they break down and bring the entire mixture to a simmer.  Lower the heat and simmer for an hour and a half to two hours, or until desired consistency.  As you wait for the sauce to thicken, put your canning pot on to boil with 8 pint jars or jars of choice (I use 24 oz or pint and a half jars) and prepare your lids.
  4. If you choose to use the tomato paste, add it near the end of the cooking time.  Using the paste will speed up the thickening of the sauce but is not necessary.  When the desired thickness has been reached add the red pepper flakes and the chopped herbs and stir until heated through.
  5. Ladle boiling sauce into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Wipe the rims and place a lid on each, tightening only until fingertip tight.  Place jars into boiling pot and process for 35 minutes for pints or 40 minutes for 24 oz or quarts (time from when the water begins to boil again).
  6. Turn off burners and lift jars carefully onto a towel with a jar lifter.  Allow to sit and cool for 24 hours before labeling and storing in a cool, dark place.

Homemade Pesto, en bulk

Makes about 28 oz.

Note: the ingredients in this recipe are measured by weight, as I find both cheese and basil are hard to measure precisely otherwise.

  • 5 oz. fresh basil
  • 2 oz. grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 oz. raw pine nuts
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 3/4 cup olive oil, divided, plus three or four T for topping.
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • several good grinds black pepper
  • 1 T. kosher salt
Pack the basil into your food processor.  Add the parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, 2 T. of olive oil, pepper, and salt.  Process until most of the garlic and basil is pureed, then stream in the lemon juice and remaining 3/4 cup olive oil.  Continue to process until the mixture resembles a shiny paste.

Pesto must either be stored in the fridge and used in a few weeks or frozen.  To store the pesto, I usually use 8 oz. plastic freezer jars.  However, you can also use half pint or 4 oz. glass jars, as they are freezer safe (just make sure you leave enough head space).  Fill your container of choice, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Drizzle olive oil over the top, around one tablespoon, to cover the pesto, and lid.  You could also freeze cubes of pesto in an ice cube tray so you're able to thaw smaller amounts.  After freezing the pesto cubes store them in a zip lock bag.
My favorite way to use pesto- pesto pizza.  Just use pesto in place of your pizza sauce and top with cheese as if you were making a regular cheese pizza.  Yum!  It's also good on pasta, stirred into soup, or spread on a sandwich.

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