When in Roma...


This homemade pasta sauce had us shimmying and shaking all around the kitchen to the sound of "Mambo Italiano". The Homestead Honey thought this was pretty spiffy - smiles were ear-to-ear.

We had an abundance of tomatoes that were suddenly ripe and screaming to be picked. This part of gardening always sneaks up on us - one minute everything is just green and growing, and then I turn around and we have more produce than I know what to do with! We have had to very quickly learn some preserving skills to get the most out of our garden, and to avoid waste.

We grew three varieties of tomato plants this year - cherry, roma, and beefsteak tomatoes.

Using the ripened Romas, we decided to preserve some of our pasta sauce that we usually make with canned tomatoes from the grocery store. The differences that I noticed, were that the sauce was a tad less thick, as we didn't use processed tomato paste (as we normally would) or parmesean cheese (not recommended for canning, but can be added later, when the sauce is going to be used). We reduced the sauce down quite a bit though, so what was left in the end was relatively rich, but the sauce yield was also less than I had hoped. We'll just really savor the few meatball dinners we have with the preserved jars of summer sauce.

The process we followed included picking, and uncapping the tomatoes, washing them and then blending them (whole) in a Ninja Blender. Now, there's a lot of discussion out there about whether or not you should peel your tomatoes before canning them - you can decide for youself what you'd like to do here.... many people say it is a taste preference and there is some concern in the skin-bits becoming "crunchy" in the jar when preserved, and potentially carrying bacteria.... We personally opted to leave the skins, as the tomatoes were macerated, and the skin was practically non-existent, after blending. We then cooked the sauce, causing everything to break down even further. I'm not personally concerned with this having a poor effect on the sauce, but there are some pretty simple methods for peeling tomatoes if you'd rather go that route first. I probably would have if we were planning to can tomatoes whole, but that wasn't our plan here.

Disclaimer: I don't claim to be a mason jar canner extrodinaire, and I don't work for the CDC. I'm not Martha Stewart or Giada. Can and use receipes at your own risk. Read up on canning recipes before you give this a try. Keep in mind people have been canning and preserving since the pioneer days...

We poured the blended tomatoes into a sauce pot, and added our seasonings. We recently dehydrated a bunch of herbs from our garden, so we used those in the sauce. They were still incredibly fragrant after dehydrating - far more so than any store-bought seasonings I have ever purchased. You can use herbs fresh, but I've read mixed thoughts on that, too... I also opted to use dried, powdered garlic, in place of minced fresh. When I go to use the sauce, I'll add the minced garlic to my meatballs at that time instead (ALL the garlic!).

We like to use a little red wine in our sauce, as it deepens the flavor. We always cook with wine in our household - sometimes it even makes it into the food. We have a few bottles of our homemade stuff left, so we opted to use that to make the sauce as authentic as possible. Any rich red, such as a merlot or cabernet, or even a chianti would do the trick.

After the sauce had reduced down (about a 1/2 hour to 40 minutes later), and we had steralized the canning jars in a hot water bath (min. of 165 degrees Farenheight), we filled the jars, leaving about a 1/2 inch of headspace in the top. We capped them, and placed the canning rings on, and then put the full jars back in the hot water bath for processing. Processing time was 65 minutes.

After we processed, we removed the sauce jars and let them sit on a towel overnight. Come morning, all lids had sealed! We are now looking forward to a cool, blistery winter night, when we get to open up one of these puppies and savor the thought of warmer weather. It will be a lovely little reminder that summer does come around again.

Other tomato preserving ideas include salsa, bruschetta, whole tomatoes, or tomato soup. Know of any others? Leave us a comment, and let us know.

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