Labor Day weekends of my childhood were spent shopping for school supplies at a beat-up Staples and turning 100 pounds of Jersey tomatoes into a thick, deep red sauce that was packed in glass jars and stored in the basement. A signature of our family, those jars were taken out for weeknight dinners and housewarmings—when we really liked the people.
Canning is something my dad learned from his mother and I learned from him. It’s something I’ve done in my tiny Brooklyn apartment. It's a lovely tradition—and an emblem of the hipster lifestyle, but when it comes to canning tomato sauce, things have gotten more complicated in recent decades. Tomatoes are now bred to be sweeter, meaning there is less natural acid in them to help preserve them safely. Add olive oil and garlic and all bets are off unless you have a pressure canner.
Enter the glories of freezer sauce. Over the past few years, I’ve swapped my family’s earthy tomato sauce for a lighter one made from heirloom tomatoes, garlic, chile flakes and basil. With the help of olive oil (remember that fat is a freezer’s friend), this sauce can stand up for six months in the frigid temperatures of a freezer, meaning that even during the worst snowstorms of a New York City winter, a taste of summer is never far off.
Heirloom Tomato Sauce
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 4 cups
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes
6 pounds (approximately 8) heirloom tomatoes
1 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced
1½ teaspoons chile flakes
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 basil sprigs, leaves left on stems
Kosher salt and sugar, to taste
1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, cut an “X” across the top of each tomato. Prepare an ice bath in a bowl and set it next to the stove.
2. Working in batches, submerge each tomato in the boiling water for 30 to 45 seconds, until the skin around the cut starts to pull back from the flesh. Immediately transfer the tomatoes to the ice bath and allow to cool for a moment. Remove the skins from the tomatoes and discard (or save for later use). Roughly chop the tomatoes, removing the cores and any tough pieces that remain, and discard.
3. In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, add the olive oil, garlic and chile flakes. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, allowing the garlic to become fragrant but careful not to burn the chile flakes.
4. Add the chopped tomatoes, salt and basil to the pot, stirring to combine. Allow the sauce to simmer, stirring often to prevent burning.
5. After 1 hour, remove and discard the basil. Continue cooking the sauce over medium heat.
6. When the sauce reaches your desired thickness, season with salt and sugar to taste.
7. Serve immediately, or allow to cool and transfer to quart containers and freeze for up to 6 months.