Sunday, October 2, 2011

Baked Tomato Sauce

Bowl of Rigatoni with Tomato Sauce
Baked Tomato Sauce Over Pasta

Recipe by Barbara and Robin

Tomatoes are still coming in strong in many fall gardens. The idea for this recipe comes from my longtime friend Barbara, the only gardener I’ve ever known who grew corn in foggy Santa Cruz. Originally from Chicago, she grew a row of corn every year, even though she harvested only a few small ears. 

Barbara’s luck with fog-based tomatoes was much better. Every year, she cooked bushels of tomatoes into sauce, finally settling on baking as her preferred method for the tastiest sauce. She added a lot of basil from the garden, a lot of pressed garlic, and a little olive oil. The magic in this recipe is that baking the tomatoes caramelizes them a little as well as evaporating the water, concentrating the sweet tomato taste.

Baking Pan with Tomatoes, Leeks, Garlic & Italian Herbs
Tomatoes Before Baking, with Leeks
Since I always start my tomato sauce with onions, I wanted to add onions with the garlic. I don’t like raw onion taste in cooked foods, so sautéed it first, along with the garlic. Note that I don’t use much. You can use any kind of onion: white or yellow, scallion, leek, shallot, whatever you have on hand. Each will lend its particular character to the sauce. This sauce is mainly about the garlic and basil, and of course the tomatoes. I used Walla Wallas originally, because they’re sweet. I’ve had excellent luck with leeks (white and light green parts) as well.

Closeup of Caramelized Tomatoes
Tomatoes After Baking, Before Stirring
No matter how sweet the tomatoes, all-tomato sauce can taste acidic, so I use my Mom’s trick of adding a little (raw) sugar at the end.

This recipe was designed for home gardeners with too many ripe tomatoes. I also used it with my recent Farmers Market tomato score. You can use extra-ripe tomatoes that are too squishy to eat uncooked. Use any kind of tomatoes. Dry farmed Early Girls make excellent sauce. Because of my tomato bounty, I also mixed in heirlooms and Sungold cherry tomatoes. Sauce can be frozen for winter dinners when you’re nostalgic for summer.

Plate of Tomato Sauce over Vegetarian Sausage and Peppers
Sauce over Smartdogs "Sausage" and Peppers 
I’ve quantified the ingredients below as I’ve made this dish in the past. In practice, you can slice up as many tomatoes as you can fit in a baking dish, one to two layers thick. (Two layers will not caramelize as well as one, and you will need to cook about 1 hour instead of ½ hour after stirring). Then throw in a little olive oil and whatever Italian herbs and onions you have on hand, along with a load of pressed garlic. Then, after baking, stir in as much basil as you dare. I hope you have fun adding your own personal touches to this dish, as I did to Barbara’s original.

Large Cup Measure Filled with Tomato Sauce
Homemade Tomato Sauce to Freeze for Winter
Baked Tomato Sauce
makes 1 ½ cups

Canola oil spray (or other cooking spray)
12 medium-small tomatoes, about 1 ¼ lbs.
~ 2 tbsp. flavorful olive oil, divided
1 small Walla Walla onion, about ¼ cup chopped
~6 cloves garlic
½ tsp. dry oregano or marjoram
2 tsp. – 2 tbsp. basil, minced with scissors
1 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8” x 11” baking pan with cooking spray, preferably real canola oil. Set aside.

In a frying pan, sauté onion in about 2 tsp. olive oil until golden, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and stir till fragrant, about a minute with onion, or several minutes with leeks. Remove from heat and cool.

Slice tomatoes in half, and halve the larger slices (if any) so they are about the same thickness. Arrange tomatoes in pan to form a uniform layer to completely cover the pan bottom. Drizzle with dry oregano and about 1 tbsp. olive oil, more or less to taste.

Distribute sautéed onion and garlic over top of tomatoes more or less evenly.

Bowl of Tomato Sauce over Steamed Zucchini
Tomato Sauce over Steamed Zucchini
Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees F. Remove from oven and stir thoroughly to break up tomatoes. Lower heat to 325 degrees F., and bake another ½ hour or so, until liquid has evaporated enough for sauce to look uniform in texture.

Remove from oven. Stir in sugar, minced basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pasta or veggies, or on pizza, or cool and freeze till later.

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