A few months ago J and I were hanging out at our neighbors’ house. We’d all originally intended to go out for Ethiopian food, but as we sat around the table sharing a bottle of wine, our motivation to move from what had become very comfortable chairs quickly disappeared. Our neighbors decided that they could very easily pull together food, and they made us pasta with Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with onion and butter. I’d never heard of this before, which was kind of surprising considering my obsessive reading of food blogs. This sauce has definitely made the rounds of some very well documented kitchens.
J and I remained uselessly in our chairs while our neighbors put together this dinner, explaining that its beauty was in its simplicity. You didn’t add basil or parmesan or red pepper flakes, no need for extra spice or tomato paste. At any given time you probably have the ingredients for this in your kitchen. Just 5 tablespoons of butter, half an onion, and a can of San Marzano tomatoes, plus cooked pasta. The dinner was positively perfect. I’m not sure if the sauce is as magical as people report, or if any meal just tastes better in the company of friends, but this was definitely a Berkeley meal to remember.
So I was excited when we planted a San Marzano tomato plant in our garden, but even more excited when we actually got tomatoes, and then when they started to ripen.
At the bottom of this giant bowl of garden vegetables were ten ripe San Marzano tomatoes.
I cored the tomatoes, and cut a small “X” on the bottom of each fruit to aid in peeling them. I blanched them in boiling water for just a minute, and then scooped them back out of the water and dropped them into an ice bath.
The skins loosen right up and they become very easy to peel. As I peeled each one, I put it in one of these pint jars (I had sterilized them earlier). Each pint jar fit 5 San Marzanos. I had to squash them a little bit to get them all to fit, but that let some of their juice out, so I didn’t have to pack them in water. I’m totally new to this canning thing, so I had no idea why you would want to pack them in water vs. pack them in their own juice. I roughly followed this procedure from the incredibly helpful and informative Food in Jars blog.
I added 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar, and carefully wiped the rims (right after taking this photo).
I put on the sterilized lids and proceeded to put them in the boiling water bath for what seemed like an obscene amount of time. (You can see a full roundup of canning guidelines here). Then I just pulled them out of the boiling water bath and left them on the counter to cool. While canning is absurdly satisfying, it’s not the same as cooking. I know that several months down the road, I’ll be using these tomatoes to make a wonderful sauce, but I can’t exactly end this story with “and these were delicious!” Still, several hours after these were done, I unscrewed the ring on the lid, and the top was very clearly vacuum sealed to the lid, and that in and of itself was oddly satisfying.
Over time I’ve gotten to a comfortable place with cooking, where I feel like I can pretty much handle any recipe with the aid of a sharp knife and a Google search. Yet I was still totally freaked out about canning. I had visions of jars exploding, and tomato-covered shards of glass flying all over my kitchen. Thus far, I’ve found it to be shockingly simple. There is boiling water and hot glass involved, but I did this batch of canning with positively no special tools. I boiled the water in my pasta pot, and I put my hand in an oven mitt and pulled the jars out of the water by hand. And nothing bad happened.
I’d really recommend this as an easy and completely satisfying weekend project, especially while tomatoes are still in season. You could be making your own perfect, simple tomato sauce come February.
What’s in your favorite kind of tomato sauce?