It is officially fall which means tomatoes are so over. But, if you are like me there’s a good chance that you have 30 to 40 of them hanging around on your countertop or ripening on the decrepit vine in your yard, and you need to use them up fast. My favorite way to use a plethora of tomatoes is to make sauce. It’s easy to make. You can set it and forget it, and you can use up a ton of tomatoes. Also, red sauce is great to have in your refrigerator and freezer. Now that tomato season is coming to an end, we’re going to talk about sauce, transitioning to canned tomatoes and what to look for when buying them.
When I first started making soup regularly, I wondered why people weren’t using fresh tomatoes in their soup recipes so tried it a few times. Using fresh tomatoes in soup or any other dishes that require long cook times will make the tomato basically disintegrate. Which is a good thing in some cases but if you’re wanting to feature proud and present tomato chucks - grab a can opener. Canned tomatoes are packed with calcium chloride which acts as a stabilizer and keeps the tomato firm. When it comes to soups, canned tomatoes are not only the way to go but they are an invaluable tool. I [expletive] love tomatoes, and tomato-based soup is where it’s at for me.
When purchasing canned tomatoes, I recommend buying whole peeled. Whole peeled tomatoes are great because you can make them whatever size and cut you want. I like to break them up with my hands for a more natural texture. I also will use a potato masher to break them into smaller pieces or an immersion blender to puree them. I also like to keep a couple cans of diced tomatoes on-hand because I can skip a step and add it right into the soup, and I like that shape and size.
It is also important to buy the best canned tomatoes that you can find. If you buy nice tomatoes, you don’t have to do a lot to make them taste good. Some of them are so good you could just eat them out of the can. Bianco Dinapoli is the best canned tomato in my opinion (and in the opinion of most food people on the internet). If you pay attention at all to food media, you’ve seen them everywhere over the last two years. The tomatoes and the company are from California, and they are just exceptional. Around Pittsburgh, they can only be found at Whole Foods, and they come in around $4 for a 28oz can. Though, to be honest, I have paid way more than that online before they were available at Whole Foods. I don’t recommend doing that. If you aren’t into going to Whole Foods or that product is above your price point, there are still a lot of great options for canned tomatoes that you can find at just about any grocery store.
My favorite canned tomato that is most readily available is Hunt’s. I basically grew up inside a can of Hunt’s Marinara sauce, so this is definitely my personal bias. But I have tried them all and, when it comes to the tomato isle at Giant Eagle, Hunt’s is the only one I am reaching for. It is a fine product and is usually priced around $1 - $2. Cento is also good. Red Pack is just okay for me.
The canned tomato is a work horse. It will work wonders in the way of bridging the gap between the random items in your refrigerator and pantry to create a meal. Do you have a protein? Some vegetables? Some capers or olives? Some noodles or rice? Throw it all in a pan, add canned tomatoes to the mix. It’s over for you bitches.
While it will go far and do a lot for your meals, you do need to put in a little work to get the most out of the product. Because tomatoes are acidic, after being in a can for a while they can develop a bit of a metallic flavor. Luckily, this is very easy to get rid of by cooking it out. The longer you cook it, the better it will be. Also, the crappier the quality of the tomato, the longer you’ll need to cook it to get rid of the tinny tinge. One great trick is to doctor it up. It is always a good idea to add a couple tablespoons of tomato paste (which you should buy in a tube) when cooking down canned
tomatoes, the concentrated flavor of the paste will make the dish more tomatoey. Other doctors include Dr. Herbs and Dr. Spices, Dr. Allium, Dr. Beef, and Dr. Anchovy.
While sauce may not be soup – it is hot, wet food and it is important to have and know about. I have been making this sauce recipe for years and I pretty much always have it in my fridge or freezer. It always receives rave reviews and is “the best part” of whatever I make with it. Best of all, it is extremely simple.
A very simple sauce
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 anchovy filets (optional)
1 whole head of garlic
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. red pepper flake
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
A handful of fresh basil
20 tomatoes of varying shapes and sizes
OR 4 28oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
Cut the core out of the tomatoes. In a Dutch oven or stock pot heat olive oil until it shimmers and easily coats the pan. Add anchovy filets, garlic, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste. Stir to incorporate and cook until the anchovies and tomato paste have melted into the oil. Add the tomatoes with at least 3 Tbsp. kosher salt and stir so that all the tomatoes are coated in the oil mixture. Simmer on low heat stirring occasionally for 2 – 6 hours. About halfway through, use a potato masher to break up the tomatoes for a chunkier sauce or use an immersion blender to puree.
A Word About Garlic – the last few times I’ve made this sauce, I just cut off the top of the head of garlic and threw the whole thing into the pot. After about an hour in the sauce, the garlic is cooked the whole way through. I take out the bulb and let it cool and then squeeze all the cloves out of the paper. I only do this because I’m getting lazier and peeling all the garlic beforehand is too tedious. But feel free to peel and dice all the cloves if you wanna.
A Word About Tomatoes – because we are leaving the skins on the tomatoes, the sauce will likely have some tomato skin it in no matter how good your blender is. If this is something that bothers you, it can be easily solved by passing the sauce through a mesh strainer. I don’t strain it because it doesn’t bother me so maybe just lighten up?
Thank you for coming and please return again next time. The real reason I wanted to talk about nice tomatoes is that I will be back in two weeks with my recipe for TOMATO LAMB STEW. It’s a smash hit.
- the BMer
Illustrated by Thomas Cipollone
Mmm, your sauce recipe looks amazing! And I also love to break the tomatoes up by hand. So zen!
And I seriously can't wait for your lamb stew mailer! 💕
When I am cold and lonely and tired, I am going to watch that video of the sauce being made on repeat! 💜 This warms my heart!