Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: It’s time for a tomato marathon

Take one of the summer's favourites and spend a few hours canning and putting up jars of tomato sauce for the winter

I’ve finally got all my recipes in order to make the best of a large harvest of tomatoes. Well OK, truth is my own tomatoes are few and far to behold but I’m trusting that our local farmers will have plenty for this gal to put up for the winter.

I like to see my pantry shelves full with different tomatoes and sauces. A good tomato sauce is the foundation for so many wonderful dishes — pizza, pasta, chicken and fish. The basic recipe below starts with a soffritto of onions, carrots and celery cooked in a little olive oil, to which garlic, tomatoes and seasonings are added. Simple and delicious. The sauce can be dressed up with mushrooms, sausage, olives, wine, and any vegetables of choice. I like canning a vegetarian spaghetti sauce even though it is time-consuming to do, because in the end it saves me more hours than you’d imagine and it’s so much tastier than anything you can buy.

This year my dad is joining in the marathon sauce making — he has no idea what he’s in for (chuckle) but it should be fun.

Basic Tomato Sauce from Scratch

3 Tbsp. olive oil (approx.)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely diced

1 stalk of celery

1/4 cup celery leaves, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. dried basil or 4 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

2- 1/2 pounds (about 8 cups) of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 2- 28 oz. can chopped tomatoes, including the juice

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large wide skillet on medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Stir to coat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and cooked through. Remove cover and add the minced garlic. Increase the heat to medium high. Cook garlic for 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes, including the juice. Add the tomato paste and the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 15-25 minutes.

For a smooth sauce, blend it with an immersion blender or food processor. Makes about 5 cups of sauce. Recipe can be multiplied for canning purposes.

Canned Vegetarian Spaghetti Sauce

1/2 bushel Roma tomatoes (about 25 lbs.)

3 large onions, chopped

2 medium green peppers, diced

1 red pepper, diced

1 yellow pepper, diced

4 celery stalks, chopped

1/2 cup celery leaves, finely chopped

1 cup olive oil

6-8 cloves garlic, crushed (or to taste)

1/4 cup oregano, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon thyme leaves, finely chopped

Handful of basil leaves, chopped

Coarse salt to taste (about 1/4 cup salt)

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup red wine vinegar

48 oz. can tomato paste

Blanch and peel tomatoes: run through blender or food processor to crush.

In a large stainless steel pot, cook onions, peppers, and celery in oil until soft; add the minced garlic. Cook another minute.

Add tomatoes,  oregano, thyme, basil, salt, sugar, vinegar and tomato paste. Mix to combine. Cook until very soft. Cook down until thick (usually cook for 4-6 hours). Fill jars and process in hot water bath for 50 minutes or in a pressure canner for 20 minutes at 10 lbs.

To serve, simply brown hamburger or meat of choice and add a jar of sauce, heat through and enjoy over spaghetti or pasta of choice.v

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.