how to prepare fresh tomatoes for tomato sauce

how to prep your tomatoes for a sauce

I don’t know whether to rejoice that it’s September or to cry. On the one hand, it’s my favorite month. I don’t know what to get excited about the most: Apples! Sweaters! Bourbon! Things generously scented with cinnamon!

On the other hand, I’m frenetic as I try to get to the greenmarket every few days so that I can preserve whatever produce there’s left to savor. I carry my weight in plums and other remaining stone fruit, and try to eat it all before it goes bad. A few peaches may or may not have been unceremoniously tossed out – but let’s not blame anyone. But what concerns me now more than anything is tomatoes.

how to prep your tomatoes for a sauce

How many more weeks days of tomatoes do we have left? Let’s be conservative and say – this weekend is the last weekend!

In that case, there’s no time to waste and I’ve still to share a challah recipe that might be good enough to eat for dessert. Tomorrow, I hope! This is far more time sensitive.

The one piece of equipment you will need to make your own tomato sauce is a food mill. It easily gets rid of tomato skins (no need for the pesky blanching and manual skin removal) and gets the tomato puree to just the right sauce texture. Also, if you’ve been lax at the gym (not that I know anyone like that!) or have had a bum wrist that (most likely) requires surgery, working the food mill is an excellent, excellent way to get your triceps and forearms nicely toned. Think of the food mill as a fancy piece of gym equipment that also makes tomato sauce, apple butter, and even baby food!

how to prep your tomatoes for a sauce

I got this tomato prep technique from the great Marcella Hazan whose book has been spending little time on my book shelf and a lot of time on my kitchen counter, and its already stained pages are getting even more use. In her very direct, non-fussy way, Hazan instructs to halve your tomatoes and cook them in a covered pot for ten minutes before pureeing them in a food mill. After that they are ready to become whatever tomato sauce you prefer. You can even freeze what you have and then defrost and cook the sauce when you are ready.

Which means, you can sort of keep September going a little longer, even if it’s only in your kitchen.*

*I’ll be back next week (post challah) to talk actual tomato sauce!

How to Prepare Fresh Tomatoes for Sauce
Method adapted from Marcella Hazan

Keep in mind that when you make this, it’s possible that your tomatoes will burn slightly at the bottom and leave black marks on the bottom of the pan – this is perfectly fine. To clean your pot after you’re done cooking the tomatoes, add just enough water to cover the pot, and bring everything to a boil scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged wooden spoon.

Plum tomatoes, halved (I worked with 6 pounds)

1. Place the tomatoes in a pot, cover, and set the heat to medium. Depending on the size of your pot, you might need to do your tomatoes in batches. I started with 6 pounds of tomatoes and did them in three batches using an 8-quart stockpot.

2. Cook the tomatoes for 10 minutes, then remove from heat, and process through a food mill fitted with the coarsest grating attachment. Now, your tomato puree is ready for whatever sauce you plan to make.


  • phi

    I find that making apple pies help me forget about the end of fresh tomatoes. You are wise in preparing for the long tomato-less months to come…

  • Radish

    Jordan – I rarely go on a must-have recommendation speech, but I really think a food mill is a must have in a kitchen. That said, I’ve done this without a food mill, but less successfully. First you bring a large pot of water to a boil, meanwhile you make small x’s in your tomatoes on the bloom side (not stem). Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 1 minute; plunge into an ice bath to cool. Then peel the tomatoes, one by one, using a paring knife. Halve the peeled tomatoes and core then, getting out the fibrous center. Then, in batches, pulse in a food processor, until pureed, but with some texture to them (i.e. not completely smooth). Then cook the pureed tomatoes for 5 minutes over medium heat. It doesn’t get me the same results as a food mill does, but it is somewhat of a substitute. However, the food mill is not only a time saver, but also super handy around my kitchen.

  • Sarah

    I picked my food mill from the thrift store for $5! I love it. I just washed, cored, and squished my tomatoes before cooking them down into sauce with garlic and herbs. Food mill took care of all the skins and also all the seeds! Got two quarts of smooth sauce.

    That being said – smooth sauce is not my favorite! Lol. But it will make a nice pizza sauce and I can always add other veg to it for pasta.

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  • Michmash

    Okay another wonderful share. I like to use fresh ontario garlic and basil. With a decent quality olive oil. I do my tomatoes the same but split it up into the batches for one spicey sauce add oregano basic garlic powder and red chilli peppers. Another is basic sauce washed sterilized hot bottles. Put in olive oil basil leaves dipped quickly in water bath water as well as one good size garlic clove also dipped then fill bottles with hot concentrated sauce. The thinner sauce i keep for everything else. What evers left in the three pots is used for pasta dinner that night since the smell is killing my ramily already lol

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