CSA Share #12 – Pizza Sauce FTW (For The Winter)

IMG_3809If the share looks smaller to you, you’re right, it is, but that’s what happens as the season starts to wind down. I was very excited to see some more zucchini, and some bell peppers that have made it to the reddish-ripe stage; our growing season is often not long enough or hot enough for this to happen. So, I have in mind one more batch of ratatouille, a pretty one, with thin, even slices, arranged in a spiral-fanned pattern in the baking dish, with a delicate, flavorful tomato pepper sauce underneath. I was also happy to see the sweet little baby red potatoes. They are great for a quick side dish because you don’t have to cut them or even peel them, just wash, and boil or roast. They’ll be ready to eat in less than 30 minutes.

There’s also a mystery guest there, in the lower left corner; the farmer said it’s a ghost pepper. It looks a little different than the ghost peppers I looked at online, more resembling the Infinity chile or the Trinidad Scorpion chile, but the point doesn’t really need to be argued, because both peppers are at the utter top of the Scoville Heat Unit Chart. This chile demands my respect just by sitting on my kitchen counter, and cutting into it will be dicey (see what I did there?). I plan on touching it as little as humanly possible as I prepare it for freezer storage. There is no way we can use it up all at one time.

The weather has been cool; it has me in the mood for soups, roasted meats and vegetables, and freshly baked breads. But this week has been all about tomatoes. I have roasted a couple batches of Granadero Romas, made what might be the last giant batch of salsa, canned a double batch of Spicy Tomato Jam, and, in a rather desperate move, decided to make a batch of pizza sauce.

IMG_3801See, when I picked up 10 pounds of Granadero Romas, I also had the temerity to pick up 10 pounds of “canning quality” tomatoes of mixed variety. “Canning quality” is a quaint euphemism for “bruised, soft, damaged, and possibly a touch moldy, but in no way actually in a condition to be canned as-is without fear of poisoning your family”. Canning tomatoes is a science project as much as a culinary one, because their pH level is on the ragged edge of safety for a boiling-water canning bath. The riper a tomato gets, the higher its pH level rises. Recipes for canned tomato chunks generally prescribe adding lemon juice to each jar to assure the acid level will keep food-borne pathogens at bay. So “canning tomatoes” are really for making tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, and other things that will cook for a very long time at a temperature high enough to kill off any little critter who might be lurking in them, before they ever even hit a canning jar.

These canning tomatoes were in need of more immediate attention than I was planning for, so I knew I was going to cook them down into a sauce and freeze it, but then it hit me; why not add some onion, garlic, and herbs, and turn it into a pizza sauce? We will be having plenty of homemade pizzas this winter, and I’m always buying jarred pizza sauce for convenience.

Pizza Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
7 pounds ripe tomatoes,  cored, bruises and blemishes removed, coarsely chopped, with their juices
2 tablespoons dried oregano, divided
2 tablespoons dried basil, divided
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned. Turn down the heat if needed to avoid browning.

2. Add tomatoes and 1 tablespoon of each dried herb. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes are very soft and the whole mixture is covered in tomato juice. You want the tomatoes to have given up most of their juice.

3. Put the mixture through a food mill; alternately, puree in a blender and strain through a fine mesh sieve. (If you make jams, sauces, and soups often, get a food mill. It’s one of the most useful tools in my kitchen.)

4. Return tomato liquid to medium heat, and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of each dried herb. (Discard tomato solids left in food mill or strainer.) Simmer, stirring often, until thickened to your desired consistency for pizza sauce. Allow to cool; refrigerate until cold; pack as desired for freezing.

IMG_3802I didn’t have time or patience for peeling and seeding the tomatoes, but the food mill made quick work of removing skin and seeds, leaving behind all the debris I didn’t want in the sauce.

IMG_3804That’s all that’s left of 7 pounds of “canning tomatoes”. Oh, and this:

IMG_3806No water added. This elixir was simmered on the stovetop for a while, I honestly don’t know how long, but a couple of hours is a good guess. What’s important is to cook it down to the thickness and consistency you want for a pizza sauce. I ended up with a quart of sauce, that I packaged in freezer bags in 1-cup amounts and froze. The flavor is fresher, brighter, and livelier than sauce from a jar, and since it’s in the freezer, it’s now more convenient than store-bought, because I don’t even have to go to the store. I decided on freezing rather than canning because I still wasn’t confident in the pH level of the sauce, and I also wanted it stored in smaller quantities than the jars I have on hand would allow.

As I mentioned, the weather is changing, the apples, winter squash and pumpkins are changing the look of our local farmstands, and soon the leaves on the trees will start to change color. The amazing color and flavor of this summer’s tomatoes, however, are preserved, unchanging, waiting for us, waiting for winter, when we miss them the most.

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