Lucky me! After getting up at the crack of dawn this past Sunday to work eight hours in the hot August sun at the farmers’ market , helping to bring fresh, locally grown produce to Washingtonians, I was greatly rewarded. One of the gracious farmers gave me a box full of beautiful, organic heirloom tomatoes !
This gift was right on time. I had just finished thinking about how I wanted to take advantage of the season’s tomatoes by either canning some tomatoes, or making and canning tomato sauce. That way, I could have peak tomato flavor even after the summer ended.
Every good cook and cookbook I’ve come across that talk about tomatoes always say that if you’re going to make fresh sauce, do it with vine-ripened, freshly picked tomatoes. Otherwise, go for store-bought canned tomatoes, which are canned at peak season (if you can’t can your own, which is time consuming I know).
So I used six pounds of my tomatoes (the ones that were of a plum variety) to try my hand at marinara sauce. It turned out pretty well – absolutely delicious in fact! As I tasted my final product, I thought, “Man, where has fresh, homemade tomato sauce been all my life?!”
Cooking the basil and thyme seasoned sauce took a little longer than I expected. I thought I could get away with just simmering it for an hour, and I could have, but I wanted a thicker sauce that was more like the consistency I’m used to. Still noticing a little wateriness, I continued to simmer the colorful mixture, which had my place smelling wonderfully from beginning to end, for about an hour and 45 minutes.
I wasn’t quite ready to attempt the canning process  yet. Thankfully, I still have half a box of tomatoes left from which I’m going to make more sauce to can and hopefully have my own little stash of marinara sauce to use when the weather’s cold, but my taste buds want to be reminded of summer.
Do any of you have experience with canning? Also, the color of my sauce wasn’t as red as I expected (it turned kind of orange). I’m still researching why that was the case. If you have any info on this, please share!
Summer Fresh Marinara Sauce
6 pounds ripe plum or Romano tomatoes
1 /4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 celery stalk, minced
4 cloves garlic minced
8 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves striped and chopped (discard stems)
1 handful fresh basil leaves
2-1/2 teaspoons salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
Fill a large non-reactive stockpot or Dutch oven with water and bring to a boil. Add tomatoes. After 15 seconds, immediately transfer tomatoes to a large bowl of cold water. Now you should be able to easily pull the skins right off the tomatoes.
Seed the peeled tomatoes by cutting off one end and squeezing the seeds out or cutting tomatoes into quarters and removing the seeds with your hands. Roughly chop tomatoes and set aside.
Wipe pot clean and add olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook for about eight minutes. Then add celery and garlic, and cook for another 2 – 4 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and stir.
Add chopped, seeded tomatoes, a pinch of sugar and stir. Stir in the thyme and remaining salt. Take half of your handful of basil and chop it, then add to pot. Stir the pot, slightly reduce heat and simmer uncovered.
After 30 minutes, chop and add remaining basil. Continue to simmer for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours stirring occasionally. The longer the sauce cooks, the more the water cooks out of it and the thicker the sauce, so cook to your desired consistency. Finally, lightly puree the sauce with an immersion blender or pour the sauce in a regular blender in batches. Taste for additional salt, pepper and sugar if needed.
Serve over pasta or vegetables. Sauce can be kept refrigerated for up to four days.