It’s tomato season, which means I’m making big batches of Susie Bright’s roasted tomato sauce. This recipe is amazingly delicious and ridiculously easy (about 10-15 minutes of prep depending on how much you’re making, plus blending at the end). And it freezes really well, so whenever it’s tomato season, we make giant batches of it and freeze it in Tupperwares for the winter. You know that children’s book, Frederic, about the mouse who sits around in the summer gathering words and colors and sun rays to store up for the winter? That’s what making this sauce feels like. When winter comes, and it’s been gray and cold and wet and dark for days on end, we stick some of this sauce in the microwave and put it on pasta, and it feels like pulling a bit of stored summer out of the freezer. And when we’re making it, it fills the house with this ambrosial tomato perfume. We mostly make this to freeze for the winter, but we can never resist eating some of it right away, warm out of the oven.
I want Susie to get the traffic, so I’m not going to repeat the basic recipe here — you have to go to her blog to get it. But I have a few modifications and finer points, and those I’ll tell you about.
1: For our purposes, I’ve found that dry-farmed tomatoes work better than heirlooms. I’m not so much into the “tomato liquor” thing that Susie waxes eloquent about. I just want tomato sauce. And I’ve found that when I use heirlooms, the sauce turns out on the watery liquidy side. Dry-farmed tomatoes are more solid and less watery than heirlooms, and for our purposes, the final texture of the sauce works out perfectly: we siphon off a little tomato liquor for soups and such, and blend the rest into the sauce. But if you do want lots of tomato liquor, by all means, use heirlooms. (EDIT: I should also add that you don’t have to use either dry-farmed or heirlooms. Any good-quality red tomatoes should be fine, as long as you don’t mind siphoning off a fair amount of tomato liquor.)
2: Make sure all the tomatoes and peppers are roughly the same color. We made this sauce one year with a mix of colored heirlooms, and while it tasted ambrosial, it looked kind of brackish.
3: I don’t bother putting the cut-up tomatoes and peppers and whatnot in a Ziploc bag. I just put them straight into the roasting pan. I put the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and whatnot into the pan with them, and just stir them up until everything’s coated. (More accurately, I smoosh it around with my hands until everything’s coated.)
4: If you can’t find this balsamic glaze stuff Susie talks about, you can just use balsamic vinegar and add a little honey.
5: We always use onions, but there’s a trick to using them: Don’t cut them up into anything smaller than quarters, and don’t let the quarters fall apart too much. I made this one time with the onion layers all broken up, and they didn’t roast, so much as they dried out and shriveled.
6: There’s a trick to using the hand blender/ stick blender/ immersion blender so it doesn’t spatter all over hell and gone (or at least, so it doesn’t spatter so much). Don’t turn the blender on and then put it into the goop. Immerse the blender head fully into the goop, and then turn it on. Like Susie says, you can use a food processor or regular blender: for me, though, one of the joys of this recipe is how simple it is to make, and using the hand blender to blend it right in the pan aids in that simplicity. Also, the hand blender gives me more control over how blendy it gets: we like this sauce pretty rustic and not too pureed, and using the hand blender means we don’t have to keep blending the whole batch if there’s just one little stubborn bit of onion or basil we want to grind up. But if you don’t have a hand blender, or don’t want to deal with the spattering, a food processor or regular blender would probably be fine.
7: If you have room in your freezer, make WAAAAAAAY more of this than you think you’ll need. We have a big roasting pan, so I double Susie’s recipe — and then I do a second batch. In fact, this year I’m thinking of making three batches: we recently got a chest freezer, and two batches is never quite enough to get us through the winter. We eat this at least once a week if we can. It’s just that good. Enjoy!