Thursday, September 27, 2012

Slow Cooker Tomato Sauce

Slow Cooker Pasta Sauce over Chicken and Kale
Pasta Alternative: Cooked Chicken and Kale

Recipe created from Conversation at Farmers’ Market

I love men who can cook and like to do so. It’s especially heartening to see young men experimenting with their own recipes and talking about them. Such was the case at the farmers’ market a few weeks back when a handsome young tomato vendor told me how he’d cook the discounted sauce tomatoes he was selling. Yes, I know it was a sales pitch. And it would have worked if I didn’t have 5 lbs. of tomatoes at home already. It almost worked anyway.

Cut up Tomatoes in Slow Cooker
Start with These
 The beauty of slow cooker recipes is of course that they pretty much cook themselves unattended. Although baked tomato sauce is delicious, you can’t go out to a concert while it’s cooking. But I did just that while “making” the slow cooked tomato sauce. Either style sauce can be successfully frozen for bright winter meals at home. Better yet, add a container of frozen sauce to your cooler along with frozen veggie burgers for those winter road trips. Serve them with pasta when you reach your destination, a simple and hearty meal.

Cast Iron Pan Sauteing Ingredients
Saute Onions, Peppers, and Garlic Before Adding
Though my farmers’ market friend didn’t mention herbs, I’ve added dried Italian herbs instead of fresh due to the long cooking time. Fresh basil added at the end of cooking or just before freezing adds a fresh touch, but isn’t strictly necessary. I added peppers because I had them on hand from our CSA. You could also consider adding a few carrots, leeks, or some spinach/other greens (the latter during the last hour of cooking only).

Partially Cooked Tomato Sauce
Keep Cooking it Down
For most complex flavor, consider combining different types of tomatoes. I used two types of heirlooms, some Sungold cherry tomatoes, a few red grape tomatoes, and quite a few dry farmed Early Girls. Different tomato varieties contain different amounts of water, and this can affect your cooking time. Some heirlooms are particularly watery. Just keep cooking the sauce down until it looks the way you like it. Our farmers’ market chef cooks his sauce on high for 4-5 hours. I cooked mine on low (overnight) for 12 hours, but it wasn’t quite as thick as I wanted. So I cooked it on high for 2 more hours with the lid ajar. There is really no wrong way to cook this.

Finally, do take the time to fry up the onions and other veggies, rather than just throwing everything into the slow cooker raw. My farmers’ market friend was very specific about this, and I believe it’s key to the excellence of his recipe. Did I mention that I love men who cook?

Thick tomato sauce in slow cooker
Cook to Your Desired Thickness
Slow Cooker Tomato Sauce
makes about 6 cups

5 lb. mixed tomatoes
1½ tbsp. olive oil
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2½ cups chopped onion
1½ cups chopped sweet peppers
2 tsp. dry oregano
2 tsp. dry marjoram
2 tbsp. fresh basil, finely chopped (optional)
Sea salt

Cut tomatoes into large dice. Cut cherry and grape tomatoes in half. Put into slow cooker container. Select either high (4-5 hour cycle) or low (10-12 hour cycle), depending on when you want the sauce to be ready. Be aware that you might need an extra 1-2 hours of cooking time if tomatoes have high water content. Turn slow cooker on.

 Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add onions to skillet and lower heat to medium. SautĂ© for about 4 minutes, until translucent. Add peppers and garlic, and continue cooking and stirring for another 2-3 minutes, until garlic is fragrant and peppers release a bit of juice.

Scrape contents of skillet into slow cooker with tomatoes. Add dry oregano and marjoram. Stir. Cover and let cook for cycle, stirring occasionally to check water content. If it looks watery during the last hour or so, move the lid so it’s slightly ajar and more water can evaporate.

At the end of the cycle, if sauce isn’t thick enough to suit you, turn onto high for another cycle. Leave lid slightly ajar. Check and stir every 30 minutes, and turn off slow cooker when sauce is the thickness that you like.

When sauce is done, stir in finely chopped basil and sea salt to taste if desired. Serve immediately, or cool and store in refrigerator or freezer.

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