Last weekend, I walked out to the dumpster behind my apartment and was met with looks ranging from slightly nervous to moderately horrified to seriously inquisitive.
It was one of those moments where you start wondering: “Is there something on my face?” or “Is my hair totally sticking up?” or “Is my skirt tucked into my undies in the back?!” I looked down at my white t-shirt and realized (too late) that I appeared to be covered in blood, carrying an enormous chest freezer box and a large black trash bag out to the dump. Eeeek! I looked like Sweeney Todd.
Allow me to acquit myself.
Two weeks ago, a friend asked if we were interested in purchasing a half-bushel of tomatoes. Without hesitation, Anthony and I said, “YESSS!!” Given how much we spend on swanky San Marzano canned tomatoes for making sauces and pasta dishes, it seemed like a steal to buy a load of fresh tomatoes for $20 and peel and can them ourselves.
Sooner than we expected, of course, the tomatoes arrived. And let me tell you, a half-bushel seems like a lot more when it’s sitting on your kitchen counter than it does in romantic can-your-own-veggies world. We sat down to talk through the canning process and realized that we didn’t know how to can, we didn’t have any of the stuff to do it, and neither of us was particularly interested in gestating botulism. So, we decided to do what we do best: freeze.
But the freezer was, of course, full. Really full. A few minutes and a Google search later, we found ourselves in the checkout at Home Depot with a chest freezer. And a few minutes after that—feng shui be damned—the chest freezer was in the living room/dining room, quietly nestled up next to the kitchen island. (In my defense, it’s a small chest freezer.)
And so we spent a good part of Sunday scoring the tomatoes and plunging them into boiling water, and then peeling, seeding, and chopping them. Some of the chopped tomatoes went straight into the freezer for future sauce making. Others continued their journey into two big vats of sauce we had simmering away on the stove.
Here is what I’ve learned from making sauce from fresh tomatoes, particularly varieties that are better suited for salads than sauces:
1. You have to simmer for a loooooong time.
2. You have to season the sauce very well.
3. In order to develop complexity and richness, be prepared to use meat or red wine—preferably both.
4. Don’t wear anything you like…you will be covered in tomato guts.
We seasoned, and reduced, and seasoned, and reduced, and finally ended up with two amazing tomato sauces, one meat and the other veggie. And it all went into the freezer for those difficult nights when dinner seems like a Herculean effort and the siren call of take-out is luring us into the Land of Bad Choices.
Exhausted but happy at the end of the night, I went out back to the dumpster with my white t-shirt heavily splattered with bright red tomato juice, the chest freezer box in one hand, and a big black trash bag full of tomato skins and kitchen waste in the other.
It must’ve been the big, stupid grin on my face (really, I love a hard day’s work in the kitchen), because the neighbors eventually smiled weakly and did not call 911.