Thursday, August 9, 2012

Just Tomatoes Sauce for Freezing

I've been remiss in posting, but not in cooking! I've been up to all kinds of shenanigans in the kitchen, including impromptu bagel French toast Sunday that I should have documented for posterity, but didn't.

So good.

Anyway. For those of you who haven't noticed, it's August (already!). What does August mean? Tomatoes! Technically the tail-end of the tomato season, especially considering the crazy heat we've been having in Oklahoma. But that just means there are lots and lots of delicious, juicy, but maybe not completely perfect tomatoes available at the Farmer's Market (and perhaps in a backyard near you)!

I love tomatoes. I tend to buy pounds and pounds of them this time of year--pounds and pounds that I can't possibly eat before they dissolve into icky tomato mush.

So I turn them into a basic tomato sauce for freezing. Fast, simple, no messing around with canning and acidity levels and botulism. I have plenty of room in my freezer for a few flat baggies of sauce. Because the sauce is unseasoned, it can be used in all kinds of recipes later--to add a tomatoey punch to taco meat, summer flavor to tomato soup, or, of course, as the base for all kinds of pasta sauces.

If canning intimidates you but you want to store up some of that summer-fresh produce for winter, do this. Trust me.

Just Tomatoes Sauce for Freezing
Adapted from this recipe at The Girl's Guide to Guns and Butter.
And by adapted, I actually mean that mine's just a smaller batch, I think.

Start with some tomatoes. It doesn't really matter how many you have; this will work fine with two pounds or ten, so long as you have an appropriately-sized pot.

Core the tomatoes and chop them into pieces. Large bite-sized pieces are about right; this might be quarters or eighths or halves, depending on how big your tomatoes are. Feel free to toss grape tomatoes in whole.

De-seed the tomatoes if you want, though I like them left in. Don't worry about the peels, as those will be shredded when you blend them anyway.

Chopped tomatoes.
Put the tomatoes in a pot.
Potted tomatoes.
Sprinkle them with salt to taste (I tend to undersalt here since I use this sauce in such a variety of end dishes).

Add just a splash or two of water. You want enough to help the cooking get started, not dilute the flavor.
Not much water at all.
Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 10 to 35 minutes. Yes, that's a wide time range, but remember I gave you a wide poundage range! Two pounds of tomatoes don't take long; ten pounds will take longer. The key is to get your tomatoes to look like this (feel free to beat them up with a potato masher if you'd like):
About halfway done.
And finally this:

The tomatoes should break down and get juicy (I told you you didn't need to add much water), but shouldn't cook down or get thick.

Cooked tomatoes.
Then it's time to blend! You have two options, depending on your available equipment: immersion blender or regular blender. Or, I guess, food processor.

To use a regular blender or food processor, pour your cooked and somewhat cooled tomatoes into said appliance and blend until smooth.

If you have an immersion blender (and you should, if you like sauces and soups and all other kinds of things), you can blend right in the pot. Or you can pour the cooked tomatoes into a bowl that's better shaped for pouring; this will make it easier to pour your sauce into plastic bags for freezing.

The sauce should be nice and smooth once blended.

Once the sauce is fully cooled, you're ready to bag and freeze it. You'll need freezer bags, not just storage bags. These use a thicker plastic and a better seal to keep everything fresh and tasty in the freezer.

You could always use plastic or glass containers with lids, too, of course, making sure to leave plenty of headroom for when the liquid expands as it freezes. I like plastic bags because they freeze flat and airtight, making them easy to store and keeping the sauce from getting freezer-burn.

Label your bag with the contents, amount, and date (so, not anything like the one in the picture).
You will want to label your bag better than this.
My first small batch I used some of it fresh and had enough for about 1 1/2 cups of sauce for freezing. A second, larger batch yielded four two-cup bags o' sauce. I usually use about two cups of sauce in most recipes; if you have a different frequently used recipe size, feel free to adjust accordingly.

Just measure:
Cup o' sauce.
And pour into the plastic bag:

Like so.
The original recipe has a nifty trick if you're doing several of these: prop your bags up inside a large pot so they'll all stay upright, making it easier to pour the sauce into the bags. Because this can get messy.

Seal the bag, pressing to remove as much air as possible. Then shimmy it around so it lies flat, like so:
Flat for storage.
You can stack bags on a cookie sheet to help them freeze flat, then line them up once they're frozen. The flat rectangle shape saves room in the freezer and thaws more quickly than a big pooled chunk.

And that's it! You now have summer-fresh tomato sauce for all your winter cooking needs.

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