This universal big batch tomato sauce is a life-saver for busy cooks. It can be used in a wide variety of dishes and even as a dipping sauce.
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I’ve been pondering whether or not I should post this big batch tomato sauce recipe for weeks. It’s so basic, so simple—is it worth writing about?
These days, I often feel like mealtime comes way too quickly. I’ve been putting all my energy into getting organized to create and cook dozens of recipes for my two ongoing cookbook projects; yet the actual cooking hasn’t yet started, so I feel annoyed when the time comes to pull another meal together. “Is it dinnertime already?” That sentence takes a whole other meaning when it is said by a toddler, whom I’ve made my mission to provide a balanced, healthy diet. My son’s birth was a huge motivating factor for streamlining our weeknight meals. I try to plan for quick options, in the fridge or freezer, so we don’t have to scramble come 5 p.m. every day.
Just a few days ago, I was pulling another of those life-saving jars of big batch tomato sauce from the freezer with the plan, that night, of serving it with meatballs. The gratitude I felt when I stirred the bright red sauce and smelled its aromatic perfume made me realize I should share the recipe, even if it’s just to archive it for posterity. This versatile big batch tomato sauce has saved us from takeout so many times, I figured maybe it could do the same for you, too.
I call it my Universal Big Batch Tomato Sauce because you can quite literally use it in any dish that requires tomato sauce. A few ideas:
As pasta sauce—obviously! I like to add whatever leftover meat and veggies I have on hand to make it a complete meal. When I’m out of my classic Bolognese Sauce, I’ll brown ground meat with some diced onion and garlic, then toss the mixture in this tomato sauce to produce a delicious makeshift meat sauce, which I sometimes use to make a lasagna if I feel ambitious;
I guess what I’m trying to say is: make it a habit to cook big batches of tomato sauce. I waited way too long before picking this up, but now I wouldn’t ever go back to the jarred stuff.
A few recipe notes:
Sugar: This sauce has a nice acidity, balanced with just a hint of sweetness. I like to keep the sweetness levels low because I find it makes for a more versatile sauce. You can always sweeten it more later, depending on how you intend to use it.
Salt: I do season the sauce but only minimally if I plan on freezing it. Because the freezing process dulls salty flavors, I know I’ll need to season the sauce again once defrosted. If you need to use the sauce right away, make sure to taste and season it just right (tomatoes like salt!).
Tomatoes: Use the best quality of canned Italian tomatoes you can afford. San Marzano tomatoes are nice, but you don’t need to spend $20 on canned tomatoes to produce a good sauce. Some organic varieties rival in flavor and are much cheaper. Keep an eye out every time you go to the grocery store and stock up when your favorite brand is on sale! You’ll be ready to make a new batch whenever you need it.
Texture: I use a stick blender to make the sauce smoother—again with the goal of making it more versatile. If you prefer a chunkier sauce, store it as is at the end of the cooking process.
Pour the olive oil in a large pot set over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent (lower the heat if the onion starts to brown—you want to keep it soft and pale). Add the garlic and stir for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Pour the cans of tomatoes one at a time, crushing the whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon as you go. Stir well, then bring the sauce to a simmer. Lower the heat to the minimum and let the sauce simmer uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce looks rich and thick.
Finely chop the basil. Stir the basil (or the basil pesto, if that’s what you’re using) into the sauce. Season with 2 tsp (10 ml) kosher salt, a turn or two of black pepper, and 1 tsp (5 ml) cane sugar. Stir well, then taste the sauce. It should be gently seasoned, but not bland, and bright, but not overly acidic. Adjust the salt and sugar levels to your liking, keeping in mind that if you plan on freezing the sauce, you will need to season it again after defrosting.
If desired, use a stick blender to smooth the sauce. Let the sauce cool completely in the uncovered pot. Portion into airtight containers, then refrigerate until completely cold. The sauce will keep refrigerated for about a week.
For long term storage, transfer the sauce containers to the freezer. The sauce will keep, frozen, for months. To defrost, leave overnight in the fridge or to room temperature for a couple of hours.
Recipe Credit: Marie Asselin
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