Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Ameraucanas and Black Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection, as well as some Olive Eggers just for fun.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Promise of Pizzas to Come

Purple Glazer
First things first--the garlic has been delivered to the Clintonville Community Market! We delivered several pounds of each variety--German Red, Purple Glazer, and Silver Rose. We had not quite a pound of Inchellium Red (crop failure) but it continues to win taste test after taste test, so if you want to try it you should contact the market and get some before it runs out. All the garlics are so delicious, and each has it's own unique flavor. So much fun to do a garlic taste-test with all the varieties made into garlic butter, a good loaf of French bread, a bottle of wine, and some friends. Let us know which varieties you like best in the comments (I think we have them fixed) so that we know what to grow more of next year. If the comments don't work, you can email me at erika@redwicket.com and let us know.

We love garden-fresh tomatoes. In fact, we only eat fresh tomatoes when we pick them out of our own garden--everything else is a pale imitation of a tomato that only makes you feel sad for having eaten it. That makes the tomatoes we put up every summer extra special. We make lots of plain tomato sauce to be morphed into chili or stew or Indian food or whatever we need it to be. We also make lots of pasta sauce and pizza sauce. Homemade pizza sauce is one of our favorite things to pull out of the pantry in the dead of winter. The bright, tomato-y sauce with bits of fresh basil tastes like summer, and makes an amazing pizza.

Pizza and pasta sauce are easy--they're both made exactly the same way, but with slightly different seasonings. You can make gigantic batches like I do, or just use a few pounds of tomatoes and just make a pint or two. You can can your sauce in a boiling-water canner, or freeze it, or simply use it within a couple of days. And you can customize your sauce to your personal tastes. Don't like basil? Leave it out. Love it spicy? Add lots of red pepper flakes. You get the idea. One warning--this is an all day process. Don't plan to leave your house on the day you're making tomato sauce.

First, plant your tomatoes. I know you've all done your planting by now, but it's never too early to plan your harvest for next year. If you're doing a lot of sauce making, you want a mix of paste tomatoes and eating tomatoes. I usually try for a mix of at least 50% San Marzano paste tomatoes and 50% "other" varieties. The "other" part changes year by year for us, depending on what worked and didn't in previous years. We plant the tomatoes we want to eat raw, such as Brandywine Pink, Cherokee Purple, Paul Robeson, Big Beef, New Girl, and others. We also plant 3-4 cherry tomato plants, because we all love to eat them straight off the vine. This year, we planted Sun Gold (my favorite) and Sun Peach (our kids' new favorite). Cherry tomatoes can be used for sauce, but only if you process them with a machine (more on that in a minute).

Next, harvest the tomatoes. Ideally, you want to process your harvest the same day you pick it, so I usually go out very early in the morning to harvest and hope to be processing tomatoes by 10am or so. If something happens, you can usually hold your tomatoes overnight. Put them in your garage or basement or somewhere not your kitchen--there will be fruit flies. Don't put them in any space that is cooler than 50 degrees F. Cold kills the texture and destroys the flavor of tomatoes. One hint I have, is to make sure that whatever you put your harvested tomatoes in doesn't get too heavy--the tomatoes on the bottom will get squashed, and you'll lose part of your harvest.

About 60lbs of tomatoes. The bottom ones were squished and I should take my own advice.
 After you've harvested your tomatoes and washed them if you're so inclined (I don't unless there is visible dirt) it's time to get rid of the seeds and skins. I used to laboriously cut an X just through the skin in the bottom of the tomato, drop it into a pot of boiling water just for a minute or two until I saw the skin loosen, then dump it into a sink filled with ice water. The skins peel off fairly easily. Then I'd cut the tomato in half, squeeze out the seeds, and put the tomato in a pan. This method works great if you only have a few tomatoes to process. Since then, a good friend has shown me the light--the Victorio Strainer.

The Victorio Strainer is simply amazing. The only prep work you have to do is make the tomato fit in the hole. That means cutting large tomatoes in pieces, but smaller tomatoes like cherry tomatoes and San Marzanos can simply be dropped in whole. Even though San Marzanos are my favorite paste tomato, I wouldn't plant them if I didn't have a strainer. They are just too small to peel and seed by hand. And I'd never try to process cherry tomatoes without a strainer--can you imagine peeling all those?!?

Easy peasy.
You then get a seven year old to turn the crank for you while you squish the tomatoes into the strainer. The stems, seeds, cores, and peels come out one end and lovely tomato puree comes out the other.


You can even run the seeds and skins back through the machine a second time to get the maximum amount of goodness out of them. There is very little waste--see that pink bowl in the photo? I had about 3/4 of that bowl of waste from 60 pounds of tomatoes.

Once you've processed all your tomatoes, either by skinning and seeding and squishing by hand or by running them through a strainer, it's time to cook them down. Fill a pot with your puree and set it to simmer.

One 20 quart pot and one eight quart pot. I had to stop processing tomatoes because I ran out of pots to put them in.
Let the puree simmer until it's almost as thick as you like it. There should be some thickened sauce near the bottom that comes up when you stir, but it should still have some watery sauce on top. This is the time to season your sauce with any dried seasonings and things like onion and garlic.

Pizza Sauce
  • ground fennel seed (not optional)
  • oregano
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • crushed red pepper
  • crushed garlic cloves
  • sauteed minced onion or onion powder
All of these seasonings are to taste. Since every batch of sauce will have different amounts of tomatoes, and the tomatoes will all taste different year to year, there's no way for me to give you amounts here. Also, I highly recommend you use the fennel! Fennel is what makes the sauce taste like pizza sauce instead of pasta sauce. It's the magic ingredient.

Pasta Sauce
  • crushed garlic
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • salt 
  • pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes (if you like spicy sauce)
Continue to simmer the sauce. Once it starts mounding up on a spoon, remember to taste it every half hour or so. There will come a point where the tomato sugars will start to caramelize, which sounds great--but actually tastes very dark and bitter. You must stop simmering the sauce before this point. When it's as thick as you can get it but before it becomes bitter, add one teaspoon lemon juice per quart of sauce. This is a safety factor, in case your tomatoes aren't acidic enough to preserve safely. This is also the time to add fresh herbs. I add lots of fresh basil to both sauces. Finally, taste the sauce again for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Either eat it immediately, or let the sauce cool and pack into freezer containers and freeze, or process in a boiling water canner. Because of the added ingredients and how thick it is, the sauce must be processed for a relatively long time. Process pints for 35 minutes and quarts for 40 minutes. Enjoy!