Thursday, August 28, 2014

When life hands you a gazillion tomatoes...can marinara !

 The tomato gods have been very good to us this year. The Romas especially have been loaded and gorgeous and  just keep on coming.  Because they are so much meatier than big tomatoes, they are perfect for making sauces.  I had quite a few big tomatoes too and put those through the Vitamix to pulverize all the skins and seeds.

When canning marinara (spaghetti sauce),  I like to cook the sauce down  long and slow, on low heat. So I use my biggest crock pot. It is big enough to cook 5-6 quarts of sauce, which is perfect. It takes a lot of tomatoes to make sauce.  I probably used 15-20 pounds to make this batch.

 Any good marinara starts off with onions and garlic. About 2 large or 3 medium sized yellow onions and about 3-5 cloves of minced garlic.  Finely chopped and sauteed in a bit of olive oil. They don't really saute in a slow cooker, lol, but you get the idea. I start the cooker off on high and start chopping.  Along with the onions, you'll want some beautiful bell peppers.

 These beauties were so fresh !!  I picked them the same morning I made this.  I used 4 big bells.  Nicely diced, as you can see.

 I often shred a carrot or two to put in my sauces, but not when I'm canning them.  You want the acidity when canning, and that's what the carrot does to the sauce. It neutralizes the acid. 

 Then I took all the big tomatoes, washed them and cut out any and all yucky spots or bruises.  My husband walked in and said--WHAT are you doing ?? as I was sniffing a tomato to be sure it wasn't smelling of rot where I'd cut a chunk off.  lol  I sniff and I taste and I scrutinize.  I NEVER peel tomatoes if I can get away with it.  Most recipes will tell you to peel them, and it's true that sometimes the skins can be tough and stringy. But if I'm saucing, I just throw those bad boys in the Vitamix and pulverize 'em.  Problem solved.

  Because I like my sauce chunky, I hand chopped all the Romas.  It's not a chore. Almost a mediation.  My big french knife makes quick work of it. Dice away!

 Toss all of it together and this is what you get.  It's a thing of beauty, innit ?

 Next I add spices...salt, pepper, oregano, basil. Not too much...spices will fade in the high heat of canning and I like to be able to spice my sauce as I'm using it anyway.  Years ago, when I cooked at a sweet little place in the Pacific Northwest called Tomaso's Tomato Pies...I learned that when you put dried basil in a large batch of sauce you need to add a little brown sugar to offset the bitterness that may occur. So, I always do that. Just about a quarter cup or so.  You can leave this out if you don't want any added sugar. I would recommend that you go really easy on the basil though. I grow and dry my own herbs and have a tendency to be a little heavy handed with the ones that I especially love, like basil.  Stir all this together, put a lid on it, and let it simmer at least a good 10 hours.  I left this batch go overnight because I wanted it super thick.

  As you can imagine, my house smelled wonderful.  Tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano...Italian air freshener !! lol

  First thing the next day, I got  my jars and lids  ready, ladled that yummy goodness into hot jars a half inch from the top, wiped the rims down, put the lids on and screwed the bands tight, and put them in the pressure canner. 

  (Do we need a Cliff Notes tutorial on using the canner??)  This is for Charlotte-- 
 *** Before you start filling jars, put  about 3 quarts of hot water into your pressure canner and set it on med high heat.   Then put the filled jars into the canner, making sure the jars aren't touching each other. (The number of jars you can get in it will depend on the size of your canner. My Presto canner holds 8 regular mouth quarts or 7 wide mouth quarts).  Once all the jars are in, put the lid on the canner, but not the little pressure regulator--leave it off.  Make sure the lid is on securely and watch for the steam to start coming out of the stem that the regulator sits on. When the steam is coming out steady, this is called "venting".  You want to vent the cooker for at least 10 minutes. At the end of that time, set the regulator on it, watch the pressure cock pop up and the temperature gauge will start to move.***

 I can my marinara at 10 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes.  At the end of 25 minutes at 10 pounds,  turn off the heat and leave it alone. When the pressure has dropped to zero, you can take the regulator off (!! Make sure it is at ZERO !!)  Then you can take the lid off and take your jars out. Set them on doubled up towels on a counter where they won't have to be moved for 24-48 hours.  No draft.  The sealing process will complete, you'll hear the little PINGS! of the lids sealing.  Resist the urge to dance to this music.  lol

  Before you store them (after 2 days)  wipe the jars down and label with contents and date. Don't not label them because you think you'll remember what it is.  DATE AND LABEL.  Always.

  You can add mushrooms or even meats to these, but if you do it will change the processing times. I LOVE mushrooms in my marinara, but I put them in as I'm cooking because I like them best fresh. I don't like the texture of canned mushrooms, not one bit. (Yes, I am a picky eater).   I like canning a basic plain sauce because that gives me more freedom to use this pantry item in more ways in different kinds of foods.   Sometimes I like sweet Italian sausages with my pasta, but again--I like that fresh too. I very rarely make a meat sauce for pasta, so I would never go to all the extra prep and time to can meat sauce. But that's just me. Lots of canners wouldn't do it any other way.   

  You can do what you like. As I always say, one of the reasons I love to cook is because I get to make up my rules as I go.  

  Freedom, baby.

Bon Apetit !

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