cooking with Nonna and a fresh tomato sauce recipe

Growing up with my Nonna, the only jarred tomato sauce we ever ate was that which we made from her garden tomatoes in the summer and jarred ourselves. Going to an elementary school followed by a high school that had many students of Italian heritage only served to solidify my assumption that this was normal. And then I went on exchange to Ireland for a semester and realized that my Nonna's jars of tomato sauce were out of my reach.

I'd grown up around my Nonna's cooking, but hadn't done a great amount of it without my Nonna/supervisor at this point and so didn't have the recipes written in memory. And, as many know, the Nonni don't often write down their recipes. In the rare cases that they do, they're incredibly vague,- "onion", for example. No amounts, just "onion".

And so, through a mix of equal parts naivety and laziness, when I found myself craving pasta with tomato sauce a week into my exchange, I genuinely believed that store-bought sauce would be ok. Maybe not great, but good. Let me tell you, it wasn't. It was confusingly sweet and yet salty while still being acidic and heavily laced with oregano. "Never again", I vowed to myself.

And so I bring you Nonna's fresh tomato sauce recipe. It freezes perfectly for a month or two or can be jarred and preserved for up to a year, so making a big batch makes perfect sense. There isn't a lot of hands-on prep involved, so do yourself a favour and get a pot going one weekend when you're puttering around the house,- it's worth it! 

fresh tomato sauce:

Yield: 120oz    Prep time: 20 mins    Cook time: 1.25hrs

  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/4C vegetable/canola oil
  • 120oz fresh roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 3/4C water
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • Salt to taste
Equipment Required:
  • Food mill/potato ricer
  • Optional: mason jars and lids, sanitized (if you choose to jar your sauce, you'll need these)

1. Saute chopped onion in 1/4c vegetable/canola oil on medium until opaque and cooked through.

2. Add the chopped tomatoes, 3/4c of water and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring to a boil, and then immediately reduce the heat to medium.

3. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for approximately 1 hour, or until the tomatoes are cooked and have broken down quite a bit.

4. Remove the pot from the heat. Run the entire tomato mixture through a food mill to break the mixture down to a smooth consistency (this step also serves to remove the skins).

5. Add salt to taste and 10 large, fresh basil leaves. Return the pot to the heat and return to boil for 5 minutes.
    Note: If freezing/refrigerating/using the sauce right away, you're done! No need to continue on to the next step. If jarring, forge ahead!

6. Preheat your oven to 150*F. Place the sanitized jars in the oven until hot, approximately 5 minutes.

7. Remove the jars from the oven, and (while still hot) fill with sauce almostto the top, making sure to leave a bit of space (approximately 1 inch from the lip of the jar) for expansion.

8. Wipe down the lip of the jar to ensure a tight seal. Add cap and tightly screw on lid. Be careful,- it'll be hot!

9. Put the hot jars on their side in a cloth lined box/bushel. Cover with a cloth and allow to cool overnight. Ensure that the lids are sealed properly by checking that the lid is flat/concave rather than popped up. If you press the middle of the lid down with your finger and it pops back up when you release it, the jar is not sealed (in this case, refrigerate the unsealed jars and consume within 2 days). Sealed properly, the unopened jars of sauce will keep well in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

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