Marvelous Marinara

If I am obsessed about anything… it has to be TOMATOES.

I love to eat them.

I love to grow them.

I love to paint them.

I love to cook them.

I truly think I have the heart and soul of an Italian. Because besides fresh tomatoes – which are delightful to eat right off the vine – the next best thing is marinara sauce. Who can live without it?? I can’t…

Now I only grow a few plants. Honestly, if you grow them right, a few plants will produce enough tomatoes for a family. And that’s all I can be responsible for. I would feel guilty if I had enough of the ruby fruits for an army. God forbid any go to waste.

So I also grow some parsley, oregano and basil. And when they all come ripe, I pick until I swoon with the fragrance of the Italian saints. I pretend I’m my grandmother while I harvest everything into my upfolded apron and bring it all into the house. Then I plan how to preserve the bounty until the next growing season. What a joy!

So here’s how I make marinara…

marinara

Of course this happened last fall and I’m just now getting it recorded into my sketchbook. No matter…

There’s time to grow tomatoes… and there’s time to DRAW tomatoes. I am fortunate enough to do both as time permits.

And just think… I’ve been eating these harvested fruits all winter and soon it will be time to plant the garden again.

Thanks be to God for the blessing of TOMATOES!!!

PS… I just realized that I made a similar post late last August called “the Tomatoes Won’t Wait!” – complete with some of the same photos…. Sigh… I guess that just proves how much I love tomatoes! I really can’t help myself about them…

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The Tomatoes Won’t Wait!

In between painting… and working… and tending to daily things… this time of year, there are the tomatoes!

tomatoes Aug 2014I LOVE TOMATOES!!! I wait for them all year long! But once they come on… they don’t wait for me!

This year I was able to put a few plants in out by the shed where they get morning sun and they practically grew right up over the roof! Every day I would peek out the window when I got up to see how tall they were. Such a thrill!

Of course, they bud with small yellow flowers and then the green fruit begins to form. And I’ll be darned if the squirrels in my neighborhood didn’t find them immediately and start carrying them off! Of course, they’d drop them after a few sour bites and I would have to go pick up the remains and mourn for one less fruit. Daggone squirrels – why don’t people still shoot ’em and eat ’em anymore? Seems like a decent food source going to waste to me…

Anyway, I’m minding my own business and the tomatoes are ripening up like crazy. So just like granny, I go out to the little patch each day and gather them into my upfolded apron and carry them in the house. Before you know it, I’ve got a bounty of fresh tomatoes and some are getting TOO ripe. Something has to be done so the fruit flies don’t take over!

IMG_3852Then there’s my cranky old neighbor who plants tomatoes and doesn’t do anything with them. When he’s had enough, he just rips the plants out and lets the fruit rot on the ground. I must admit that I “liberated” a good dozen of these when no one was looking. But since I didn’t want him to know, the rest will just have to go to waste…

Now last year, I made marinara sauce and canned it – had enough half-pints to last me all year. But this year, when I looked up recipes, I was shocked to discover that the rules have changed. For water-bath canning, that is…

Seems that modern varieties of tomatoes are not nearly so acid as in times past, so if you want to can tomatoes without a pressure canner, you need to add some citric acid or lemon juice to each jar. Really?

Yep – I scoured the internet and everyone was on the same page about it. So I guess I’ll fall in line and try not to kill anyone with botulism. So my method this year was different.

I really don’t relish the idea of skinning each tomato by hand so there was no use doing that to can tomato chunks. Even if I buy canned tomatoes, they get crushed during the cooking process, so it only made sense to go ahead and make juice or plain sauce out of what I had. That’s the basic ingredient for marinara or pizza sauce anyway. And who can’t use some plain ole juice to spice up for Bloody Mary’s???

IMG_3854So first I cut up the tomatoes into large chunks and put them in a hot pan with a little olive oil. It didn’t take long for them to soften, which meant I could take them off the heat and put them through the food mill. The OXO food mill is another thing I got last year and it is fantastic! Just set it over a large bowl and start cranking – all the good stuff goes through and the skins are scraped off and left behind.IMG_3857

And don’t forget to scrape off the thicker stuff that clings to the bottom of the food mill. That’s what Chef Anne Burrell calls the “big money” stuff and you don’t want to waste it. So into the bowl it goes.

canningI no longer have the big ole granite-ware canner. Nope – last year I got a small plastic set up that fits in a regular soup pot. The picture shows it holding 3 pint jars but I can do 5 half pints or 2 pints and 3 half pints at a time. It works great and is not hard to store. (Available on Amazon: here)

After putting the first batch through the food mill, I put the hot sauce directly into my jars and then into the canner for 45 minutes. Each jar has a bit of salt, lemon juice and the milled tomatoes. Pretty thin consistency. And when I took them out of the water bath, the juice had separated in the jar somewhat so there was tomato “water” on the bottom and thicker juice on top of each jar. No big deal, but not exactly a sauce I can use quickly next winter.

So after 10 half-pint jars of “juice” – I decided to put the next batch of milled tomatoes back on the stove to cook. Seems you can cook it down for an hour or two or three and it will get thicker and not separate in the jar. That was something I wanted to try.

IMG_3865I let the sauce simmer for about 90 minutes – I’m sure it could have gone on for at least 90 more – but I really wanted to get to bed sometime before daylight dawned. By now it was cooked down by 25-30% and was considerably thicker than when I started. Good enough for me!

So I canned that batch for another 45 minutes and took each jar out of the water bath with tongs. And the fun thing was that I could hear the lids “popping” – the sound when they make that airtight seal – even as I was setting them on the counter to cool down. What happy sounds!

I feel a tomato still life painting coming on…

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