When I shop for groceries, I typically careen around the store, barely pausing to toss things in the cart (especially since I am usually running on borrowed time before the sacred nap). Here at the grocery stores in Nova Scotia, however, there is one thing that will always bring me to a screeching halt: that bright pink sticker screaming “50% off for quick sale”.
Because boy, am I a sucker for a sale.
When I first discovered this little phenomenon, I just bought things willy-nilly, believing that I was absolutely saving money in buying a carton of juice that had to be drank up that day, or a box of cookies that had to be eaten in one sitting, but then I realized all I was doing was bingeing. Sales will wash your brain out for you like that. But while there may not be value in buying half-price, nearly expired cookies and juice, there definitely are some savings to be made in the produce section.
My biggest weakness on the produce sale rack is tomatoes. I cook with tomatoes a lot. A TON. I usually have a stockpile of canned tomatoes on hand, but there have been some rumblings about canned tomatoes containing a high concentration of BPA as it is leached from the can’s lining. Despite Health Canada’s conclusion that this exposure is not harmful, I’m a bit squeamish now, and I figure it’s always better to cook with the real deal instead of canned stuff anyway, if you can help it. Fresh tomatoes can be pricey, depending on the season and the type, so buying them half-price really tickles my thrifty bone (which is closely related to the funny bone, in case you were wondering).
You can save tomatoes for later by either canning or freezing them, and since I haven’t delved very far into the potentially scary world of canning, I mainly stick to freezing. It’s pretty foolproof. You can blanch, peel, then freeze them whole or diced, or you can cook them into a sauce and freeze that. Either way, not a ton of work.
I bet I lost a few of you at the word “blanch”, though. And to be perfectly honest, if this was the only method of preparation available, I’d have lost a whole lot of tomatoes to spoiling and sheer laziness by now. While my way does cook the tomatoes into a sauce, prep time takes about five minutes before and five minutes after, and you don’t have to fuss around with tomato skins — which, aside from being really annoying, irritate the heck out of my hands. I use the resulting sauce to make homemade pizza, but I think it would be equally delicious tossed with pasta. The other great thing about this “recipe” is that it doesn’t have set measurements, so it’s the easiest thing in the world to customize, and you can follow it with any amount of tomatoes at all. (In the interest of energy saving, you’ll probably want enough to fill a baking dish/cookie sheet at least, though. This is about four or five.)
So you have four or five tomatoes and you want to make sauce. Here is the complete list of things you’ll need to make…
Roasted Tomato Sauce
- Tomatoes – Any sort of tomatoes at all will work. Something a little more fleshy, like a beefeater or a roma tomato will work best, though, insofar as the sauce won’t be as watery in the end
- Spices of your choice – I like to use dried thyme and oregano, salt and pepper, and fresh basil if I have it.
- Sugar – Just enough to take down the acidity of your tomatoes.
- Olive Oil
- Rimmed baking sheet or dish – If you are using a metallic baking sheet, make sure to line it with a silpat or parchment paper as the acidity of the tomato juice can react unfavorably with some materials, making for bitter flavor.
- Immersion blender – A regular blender, like the kind you use for smoothies, or a food processor will work here too.
So what you wanna do is:
- Preheat the oven to 300° and line your baking sheet. If you’re using a glass casserole dish here, just get it out of the cupboard.
- Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half. Place them cut side up on the baking dish.
- Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. If you’re using tiny tomatoes, like grape ones, you can just add a drop to each half, but if you’re using bigger tomatoes, it might be easier to put about a tablespoon of oil in a cup and swipe some onto each half with a basting brush. Me? I’m lax and just dribble oil over them all.
- Season each tomato with a pinch of dried thyme and oregano, some salt and pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Alternatively, if your tomatoes aren’t overly acidic, you can leave the sugar out and add it at the end once you’ve tasted if you think you need it. I like pizza sauce to be a little bit sweet, so I do put about a pinch of sugar on the toms before they hit the oven.
- Put them in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, take a few cloves of garlic and throw them onto the baking dish with the tomatoes. Peel them if you want to, but you can also just squish the roasted garlic out of the peels at the end, which is what I do. How many you use is up to you: You love garlic and you’re making a whole tray of tomatoes? Add half a head. Roasted garlic is much more mild in flavor than raw garlic, remember, so you can be a little more generous here than you might normally be. Set the timer for 30 more minutes.
- When it’s all done roasting, throw the tomatoes and now-peeled garlic into the blender/food processor/bowl and blend them all up. If you have fresh basil, tear a few sprigs into the mix before you blend. Taste it to be sure it doesn’t need more salt or sugar and add some if it does. Try not to eat it all out of the blender.
- Freeze it up! Because I use my sauce for pizza, I usually freeze the sauce into about 1/2 cup portions for convenience. You can also just pour it into a ziplock or a freezer-safe container big enough to hold it all, if you like.
And that is all there is to it.
Making your own tomato sauce is great because cooked tomatoes have a ton of health benefits which come from the phytochemical lycopene, the levels of which are boosted considerably the longer the tomato is cooked. Lycopene has the antioxidant properties that apparently reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer, as well as lower cholesterol levels. (Source: Livestrong.com – The Health Benefits of Eating Cooked Tomato Products) Cooking it yourself out of real live tomatoes means that you get to control the bad stuff, like salt and sugar, and you can make it taste exactly the way you want it to. Something that I very mindlessly poured out of a can for many, many years is really not that hard to make, when all is said and done.
And it means I get to buy sale stuff and gloat to myself over my savings.