After a long-needed respite, Journeys Over a Hot Stove is back… I’ve been busy novel-writing and publishing, but the book is now out (see below), so I can return to my second mistress. Food and fun.
Simple, and guaranteed better than store-bought!
There’s enough nip in the air these mornings to suggest it’s time to haul in your tomatoes and make pasta sauce. Or, if you didn’t grow them, grab some bulk tomatoes (seconds) from your CSA farmstand or other local seller. We get our bulks from Weskeag Farms, on Buttermilk Lane In Thomaston, for about $1 a pound, worth every penny. No, they’re not perfect, but pretty close. Red and juicy.
For the first time in seven years, I did not grow tomatoes. I thought, why bother? As a result I had a more leisurely summer than usual, and gave my lower back more opportunity not to inflict searing pain. I also avoided battling fungus and worms and varmint’s bite holes that festered into scrofulous-looking craters.
So, wherever you get your tomatoes, you will end up with a sauce that beats anything you can buy in the supermarket. Anything. I mean it.
How to make it? Don’t measure too much.
Actually, I don’t measure at all, and so every batch is a little bit different.
First, the ingredients for 1 quart of sauce (but I usually do 4-5 quarts at a time):
- Tomatoes. Can’t tell you how many, maybe 8-10 decent sized ones. They’re cored and usually cut in half, then steamed over (not in) boiling water for 6-9 minutes, depending on how ripe they are (less time for really ripe ones), then peeled (so much fun!) and put in a food processor. Pour off the liquid (mostly water), hit the Pulse button for 3-4 and that’s it. Put the pulsed tomatoes into a large stockpot (for 4-5 quarts of sauce).
- Tomato paste from a can. Oh no, cheating! Yes, it hurts my pride, but the paste is a good thickener, and it has citric acid in it, and citric acid (like its cousin acetic acid, or white vinegar) is a good preservative. I use about 4 oz. of paste per quart, sometimes a little more.
- Better Than Bouillon beef base. More cheating! I can’t give my sauce to vegetarians because of this, which leaves more for my wife and me. I use about a hefty tablespoon of the beefy/salty goo per quart. It provides some salt, some richness to the color of the sauce, and a je ne sais quoi to the flavor. Call it umami.
- Garlic. As the air we breathe is to our lungs, so is garlic to pasta sauce. 2-3 fat cloves, pressed or minced, per quart. You can saute ahead of time in olive oil, but hey, it’s more work, and not necessary.
- Red wine. About 1 to 1 1/2 oz. Maybe 2 oz. Part of the magic! Don’t use crappy wine. Use a red wine you’d serve at dinner.
- Balsamic vinegar – more magic! About a tablespoon.
- Olive oil. A tablespoon or two. I use regular olive oil, not the extra virgin, which I think is too heavy and greasy.
- Brown sugar – about 2 tsps, but only if the sauce isn’t sweet enough.
- Oregano and basil – about 1 tbsp. each. I use fresh basil from the garden, finely chopped.
- Cayenne pepper to taste for some extra oomph.
- Green bell pepper, chopped. About 1/2 a medium sized pepper. Don’t include the white fleshy membrane stuff – too spoogey. The pepper goes into the mix at the very end.
- Caution: do NOT put any meat (beef, sausage, etc.) into the pot. Meat doesn’t can well. You can add meat later when you’re ready to cook.
Tip: The good people at Ball in Muncie, Indiana tell you, for a basic sauce, to reduce the mix by one half. That’s a lot of time, propane, and stirring. I think they expect you to want a really thick, gooey sauce, which is fine if you want to mimic store-bought pasta sauce, but no, this is your sauce (and mine) and it doesn’t have to be thick and gooey. I suggest reducing the volume of the sauce by one quarter at most. After all, they’re your tomatoes, and who wants to see half of them vanish into steam? But it’s your call: reduce the sauce until it has a texture and thickness that appeals to you. When you’re nearly done, throw in the green peppers.
Another Tip: The good people at Ball in Muncie, Indiana (I’ve actually been there!) also tell you to add a teaspoon of bottled lemon juice to your quart jar when you’re canning. Nonsense and BALL-derdash! The lemon juice adds citric acid, which extends shelf life (this may be their lawyers talking), but you’ve already got plenty of acid from the tomatoes themselves, the tomato paste, and the balsamic vinegar. Skip the lemon juice, save on lemons. I’ve never used lemon juice and my sauce lasts at least two years.
Okay, the fun part: canning.
This is a hot water bath canning process, so fill your canning pot with hot tap water to within about 6 inches from the top (for 5 quart jars). Using a jar lifter, lower in the jars (without the lids), filling them with water, and turn the burner on high and let them boil gently. In a separate small saucepot, heat some water and put in 5 lids and bands. You want the lids and bands to heat to about 180 degrees, but not boiling. Important: it’s risky using “last year’s lids” – lids that have already been pried open. They usually won’t seal again because they’ve been crimped. Always use brand new lids.
When the jars are all heated up, ladle the sauce into the jars with a funnel, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Keep the rims of the jars clean. Now put on the lids and bands. The people at Ball tell you to tighten the bands finger-tight. BALL-derdash!! That’s not tight enough – you should tighten with your whole hand. Tight, but not super tight. I’ve done “finger-tight” before, with tragic results I’d rather not share.
Put the jars into the canner making sure you have at least 1/2 ” of water over the tops of the jars, and when the water boils, cover, and let it boil gently for 45 minutes. When done, remove the cover and leave the jars alone for five minutes or so before removing. Lids may “pop down” even when they’re still in the hot water, but usually they pop down after you remove them. I place the jars on a dishtowel and wait to hear 5 popping sounds. Success!
Excellent all around.
Introducing Billy Buck
Okay, so I haven’t blogged for a few moons, largely because of the above.
It’s 2019 and Billy Buck, age 47, still idolizes the late Bill Buckner, ill-fated Red Sox first baseman who lived and died in Boise, Idaho. A shame he’s no longer living since Billy is driving to California from New Hampshire and would like to shake his hand. They are strongly linked. It’s more than just their identical nicknames.
Billy is tasked by his ex-wife Diane to deliver their two teenagers, Ashley and Bryan, to her new home in southern California as per their custody agreement. In a decrepit old van they call the Green Latrine, one can expect misadventures over three thousand miles. But what happens along the way lurches sharply off the highway into the realm of the nearly impossible, challenging their view of themselves and the world they inhabit. Something out there – powerful and invasive – has its sights trained on them.
Meet Billy. Sorta kinda.
Early in the novel Billy has drinks with a friend and explains why he’s driving the kids cross-country out instead of flying:
“I don’t fly. I don’t fly because my gut is swollen from my two fucking surgeries for the same damn thing, permanently distended, and I can barely fit in the seat and sure as hell I can’t get the fucking tray table down to get as many drinks as they’ll let me, and there’s always some NFL guy next to me who smells a cross between salad dressing and locker room sneakers, and they treat you like criminals, the PA system is like broken glass in my ear, I can’t get to the fucking bathroom when I need to, I’m trapped and strapped in and even with the kids they won’t seat us together, LaGuardia to LAX or Ontario or wherever, and as you well know I don’t have a fucking smart phone and never will, or a tablet, so I sit and squirm and the whole time my gut is rebelling, wanting me to get up and move around so it doesn’t kink up again, and that’s the main deal — if I have another obstruction, after the two I’ve already had, they’re gonna have to emergency land the plane in East Cupcake where the only surgeon is the town drunk and I probably wouldn’t make it out alive.”
Billy Buck is now available on Amazon. You can read more about it on my website – nedwhitebooks.net. Go have a look. My shortest novel – 160 pages, and just $10.95.
Thanks, all. Cheerio.