Tomato sauce, a quest | Bleader

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tomato sauce, a quest

Posted By on 09.28.11 at 12:09 PM

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Bushel_tomatoes.jpg
  • Photo courtesy of Anna at annasrecipebox.com

Two Saturdays ago my boyfriend and I took a ride out to Elmwood Park. We were headed back to Caputo’s Market. This flagship store of the local chain opened last year, we "discovered" it a month ago, and we’ve been back three times already. Such produce! Ground lamb! An aisle of olive oil alone. And the "exotic" eastern European food section—not just the widely offered Polish specialities but items from the Czech Republic. The main reason we headed out on this afternoon, though, was for tomatoes. Tim has recently challenged himself to create the perfect tomato sauce. This undertaking requires lots of tomatoes. Bags of tomatoes. It can be a little expensive if the local market doesn’t have them on sale. Seeing as we’re not loaded, heirlooms (or even non-heirlooms) at the farmers' market are out of the budget. But on our inaugural visit to Caputo’s we were presented with bushels of tomatoes at the entrance to the store. These weren’t the round, hard, pale red globes we usually see. Those tomatoes always remind me of breast implants; good enough, I suppose, but nothing compared to the real thing. At any rate, these were plum tomatoes. Locally grown plum tomatoes no less. And they were reasonably priced. I could see Tim trying to work it out. Could he cook down an entire bushel? Where would we store the resulting sauce?

He didn’t buy the bushel that trip or the two after, but there we were again. The bushels were only $14.99 (plus a $2.99 deposit for the actual bushel basket). I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist. The bushel was heavy—60 or 70 pounds maybe? We made lots of "nice tomato" jokes on the way back to the apartment. I speculated that the bushel was actually full of rocks on the bottom with just a layer of tomatoes on top to trick the rubes.

Later that afternoon, three of our biggest pots were full of tomatoes simmering. And hours later, more tomatoes were coming out of the bushel and into the pots. It seemed unending. The kitchen was steamy and smelled like tomatoes. The living room smelled like tomatoes. I went outside and came back in and was instantly enveloped in the perfume of tomatoes. A friend came over and saw all burners on, pots in various stages of tomato-sauce creation; he asked a little incredulously (and quite reasonably) what we were going to do with all that tomato sauce.

Enter the food mill. The less I say about this technology the better. The little one we have is not suited to taking on a bushel.

At last the sauce was cooked down enough, cooled, and ready to freeze. The freezer is a wall of red containers still. We made sausage and peppers, and I dragged our friends one by one into the kitchen and made them look in the freezer. “Look! Look at all that tomato sauce!”

Tim’s told me next year we’re learning to can. We’re also pretty much ruined for mass-produced tomato sauce.
Lest you think all you can use it for is pasta, try fresh homemade tomato sauce in chicken mahkani.

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