When you come from a family with a garden and with a stubborn zero-food waste attitude, it’s only natural that preserves are an important part of your pantry.
This freestyle sauce has been in my family for years, it is rich and runny, with a soft texture. It incorporates elements from other Spanish classics such as the fritada riojana (that also includes peppers) but it has been basically something that my mum and aunties came up with trying to use the surplus vegetables from the garden.
Back home in Asturias there is a sort of tomato canning weekend every year. It involves a few members of my family and the mission has been the same from the beginning of time: using all the surplus tomatoes from the garden and making canned tomato sauce that will be used throughout the year, until the new season comes.
I only appreciated the superlative importance of that tomato canning season when I left the nest to go to university. Suddenly I forgot the hassle of making it and felt fortunate to have those jars at hand in my pantry. Being able to prepare pasta or fish with a delicious sauce free from hidden sugars in no time was a real blessing.
Tomato sauce, step by step recipe
Yield: 9 medium jars
3kg ripe tomatoes
600g red peppers
250g green peppers
*Bottled lemon juice or citric acid
As with any preserves aiming for a long shelf life, jar sterilisation is the most important part of the process. Wash all the jars and lids in hot soapy water. Once the jars and lids are clean, soak them in boiling water for fifteen minutes. Make sure you use a jar rack or a towel so that the jars don’t touch the bottom of the pan.
We always use a large pot so that we can do them all at once, but when I do it on my own I need to do several batches as I don’t have such a large pot. Any option is ok as long as the jars and lids are soaked in boiling water for fifteen minutes. Then you can use kitchen tongs to pull them out upside-down on a spotlessly clean kitchen towel to dry.
If you don’t have a garden it is worth asking your farmer at your local market. Many times the farmers have “ugly” produce that they don’t bring to the market because they know they won’t sell. However, if you ask for it, they might be able to bring you the tomatoes that otherwise would be discarded at a reduced price. And everyone wins.
Dip the tomatoes in plenty boiling water for three or four minutes to skin them more easily. When they cool, skin them and put aside.
In a large frying pan over medium heat, sauté the peppers, onions and garlic in a good olive oil until soft. Then add the skinned tomatoes and continue cooking uncovered until they have reduced to a jam looking sauce. Stir often to prevent it from burning.
Once the sauce has cooled, pass it through a food mill –or do it directly in the pan with an electric hand blender-. Add the salt to taste towards the end.
Ladle tomatoes into the sterilised jars and add a tablespoon of olive oil per jar. Then seal and process the jars in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes. The jars must be covered by at least 3cm of water. Once they cool leave them upside-down on a flat surface for twenty-four hours and check for liquid loss.
*While researching this recipe I found out that to be canned safely in a boiling water bath all foods should be high acid. The tomato sauce isn’t naturally high acid enough to be on the safe side, and this is achieved by adding bottled lemon juice or citric acid to the sauce. This is to prevent botulism, since it cannot grow in high acid environments.
The proportions to be added to the jars prior ladling the sauce would be as follows:
For jars around 500g/a pint:
¼ tsp citric acid or 1 tbsp bottled lemon juice
In our recipe lemon has never been added and it has always worked fine. Obviously we always check that the sauce is ok before cooking with it, but we are incorporating the lemon solution from now onwards.