Jenny D’Attoma is a segment producer at Showbiz Tonight.
Labor Day rolls around each year, and while that brings about the inevitable sadness at summer's ending, in Casa D’Attoma, the sauce making is just getting started. My family's tradition of crafting it from scratch started back in Italy with my parents, both born in Calabria. Now my in-laws - who hail from Bari and Sicily - also pitch in.
My father begins by searching for the best bushels of tomatoes he can find: this year, six lovely bushels of Roma tomatoes. The first step is to wash every single tomato well, picking out the ones that may look a little bit mushy, and them making sure every one is nice and dry again before we begin turning them into sauce. Then everyone gets involved with cutting each tomato into pieces, which will then be stewed over a fire.
As much as we love the whole process, I have to admit that the cutting takes a long, long time. So you what do we do? We eat while we work! It can’t be all toil and no eating. Good food is indeed a function of being a good Italian; for us, it’s all about the food, all the time.
The finished sauce is funneled those trusty mason jars that are layered at the bottom with a couple pieces of homegrown basil. The jars are sealed and then go, "to bed" where they rest on the floor of my garage, covered in blankets for about a week.
This year we made 140 jars - not too shabby! When the whole process is said and done, we clean up and we eat, again. That night it was ravioli and some lobster – I think you can guess where the sauce came from!
1. One bushel of Roma tomatoes yields between 19 – 23 quart sized mason jars. The jars should be sanitized in a dishwasher first. Make sure lids and rings are not rusty and are nice and clean. Rings and lids can be sanitized in a pot of boiling water on the stove.
2. Wash and fully dry tomatoes, putting aside any pieces that are very bruised or too mushy.
3. Quarter tomatoes and put in a pot - stainless steel preferred
4. When the pot is full, top off with approx 1/4 cup Red Cross salt and about 6 oz olive oil (extra virgin if you have it)
5. Stew tomatoes on stove top until they become very soupy and limp. Keep the heat low. You do not want to scorch the bottom of the pan, so be vigilant about stirring.
6. While the stew is very hot pass through an electric tomato milling machine. There are manual ones but I don’t advise it!.The milling machine will separate the seeds and the skin from the juice and the pulp. The juice and the pulp should go into another pot because that will be going back on the stove to cook one final time. The seeds and skin should be passed through the food mill one more time before discarding because it will add some more pulp to your sauce.
7. The pot of sauce goes back on the stove to cook at low to medium temperature. Again, be vigilant about stirring. Once the sauce begins to boil mildly, you are almost there - just five more minutes.
8. Using a wide mouth funnel, pour sauce into jars, that have fresh basil at the bottom. The jars should be promptly sealed and tightened. Make sure you wipe away any sauce from around the mouth of the jar before you seal it. If any air gets in the jar after it is sealed, the sauce will spoil.
9. The jars should be laid down on their side and covered in an old comforter. I use my garage to store them. The idea is to keep the bottle of sauce warm for as long as possible. The jars of sauce should be kept under the blankets for at least a week. After that you can fill up your pantry with your fresh bottles of tomato sauce. They should last for about a year.
10. As you use your jars of tomato sauce, always smell the freshly opened jar first before using it. If it doesn’t smell good, toss it. You can then season the sauce with oregano, garlic, onions, pancetta – whatever suits your fancy. Cook on stove top for about 15-25 minutes (low to medium heat) with your desired seasonings.
“Cent’anni!” Toast with a good bottle of wine and enjoy!
Editor's note – if you plan to store sauce or any jarred goods unrefrigerated for an extended period of time, please follow proper sterilization processes as indicated by the jars' manufacturer.
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