Everyone is writing about homemade tomato sauce this time of year. I wrote about it this time last year, too. I won’t bore you with the same story again, though. I made tomato sauce on a whim the other day, mostly to try out two new ideas that were kicking around in my brain, things I had read that I wanted to try out.
The more revolutionary idea was a big shortcut in the process. I wish I could remember where I read this one. Usually, when you make tomato sauce, it’s a lot of work. Before you even start you have to prep the tomatoes in the way Deb at Smitten Kitchen describes, by blanching them, peeling them, squeezing out the seeds, and chopping them. It means working over a big pot of boiling water before you even start cooking the tomatoes. It requires a big assembly line set up in your kitchen, and if you’re making a big batch, it takes some time.
Here’s how you make it easier: don’t do any of that. Instead, just puree them. Rinse the tomatoes off, cut out the cores and any bad spots, and stick them in the food processor. A few pulses, and you’ll never know the skin and seeds were there (but you’ll still get all the added nutrition). That’s it. Then you make sauce.
The problem with this approach is that you retain a lot of extra liquid, much more than if you squeezed out the seeds and juice. That’s why the traditional process is, well, traditional. But there are solutions. You can aim for a thinner sauce. You can cook it a couple extra hours.
Or, you can add mushrooms, like I did. Because the second idea I found was making a vegetarian version of bolognese sauce (usually made with lots of meat). I saw suggestions for making it with lentils, or with mushrooms. I picked mushrooms for this because, frankly, I like them better, and because mushrooms are amazing at absorbing liquid. And what did we need in this sauce? Less liquid. So I ground up a box of mushrooms, and tossed in some finely-chopped dried porcinis, and it worked just right. Even better, all the extra mushrooms made the sauce taste rich and “meaty” – as meaty as you can get without beef.
You can scale this recipe up, or even down, as you see fit. As with most of my “recipes”, you can adjust most ingredients to taste. The amounts below made enough sauce for about 3 meals for the two of us, and it keeps well.
Easy Vegetarian Bolognese Sauce
3-4 large, fresh ripe tomatoes – they don’t have to be in perfect condition, but should be good quality
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp butter
One 10-oz box of mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
Oregano & basil
Salt & pepper
Melt the butter in a large saucepan or pot (large enough to hold everything). Chop the onion, and saute until lightly browned. If you feel ambitious, cook until it’s carmelized. When the onion is almost done, add the garlic and cook a few more minutes.
While the onion cooks, finely chop the mushrooms, to about the consistency of ground beef. When the onions are done, add the mushrooms and saute for a few minutes.
Rinse the tomatoes. Cut out the cores and any bad spots. Process them in batches in a food processor (if yours is like mine, it may help to cut the tomatoes in quarters first). When they are pureed, add them to the pot. Add herbs, and bring to a simmer.
Simmer the sauce over low heat until it’s reached the desired consistency. This could take 1-3 hours, or possibly more. It needs little attention, but stir it every 15 minutes to keep a skin from forming on the top.