it can be one of the most rewarding and ego boosting experiences to make your own sauces from scratch. it's also a brilliant way to procrastinate and avoid cleaning, studying or brushing your cats teeth.
it's also a really good idea if, like me, you're a student, not working or for any other reason are dirt poor and don't see that changing any time soon. on another note, it makes a beautiful gift and people never stop to think that you paid close to nothing for 5 jars of that sauce let alone that ONE that you gave them *cough*.
i'm not cheap, i'm just on a budget :)
i also like to think that the best gifts are not the most expensive ones but the ones that actually mean something to both the person giving it and receiving.
i like to explain with pictures and words, so many words, so i'm warning you before hand.
so! on to the recipe!
a few pointers first.
don't go knocking yourself out buying the most expensive ingredients available. it doesn't really affect the outcome as much as you may think. if this was one of those recipes where you briefly simmer and serve, sure, go for the better quality stuff. but you're going to be simmering and reducing for HOURS here so the quality of flavour comes from how long you cook and what ingredients you choose.
the other important thing to mention here is that there are no "must have" ingredients apart from the tomatoes. i was raised with a very particular cooking style which involved the motto "if it's in the fridge, chuck it in". any veges you have lying around and especially those that look like they might start petitioning for fridge citizenship any day soon can get thrown in.
so you want to be stocking up on things like oregano, salt and pepper (buy yourself a pepper mill/grinder and then you just refill it with peppercorns, SO MUCH CHEAPER), garam masala (its a wonderful blend of things, good for thai and indian dishes as well as for mixing with rice when you have to live off it for a week) cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika (i go for the sweet but mild or spicy will also do depending on your personal taste). then, if your not good at using up fresh ingredients (like me) before they go soggy (and possibly radioactive) go for the dried versions of parsley, garlic flakes, basil, onion flakes. there are other non spice type things you want to also have like sesame seeds and pine nuts, bay leaves. i know it sounds like you'll have a little smelly herb jungle in your kitchen but they last for years and are definitely worth your while. while you're there, get experimental and buy other things like curry powders and weird mixes, like lemon pepper. you also want to get stock. there are all sorts of stock out there. i like to stock up on all of them because i like to experiment with different flavours but you can be more picky. i get beef, chicken and vegetable stock. i also get it in loose powder or cube form. you can buy it in liquid form but it costs the same and one cube makes that entire box of liquid stuff. so really its such a waste of money. i prefer the cubes to loose powder tubs because it stores for longer. the loose stuff starts to collect moisture in the air and gets all stuck together and is a major pain to get out.
- tomato paste you dont need much but i chuck the whole jar in so i can use the jar for sauce.
- tomatoes i go for 2 810g cans of tomatoes.
- olive oil
- herbs i use oregano, basil, paprika, salt, pepper, and the mystery jars that have no labels, sometimes curry powders or garam masala, cinnamon or nutmeg (in small quantities, it's got a pretty strong flavour). if you want to get creative chuck in some pine nuts. they can be expensive if you go using a whole box so i only chuck in a hand-full or so. but they add texture and make it a bit ... festive.
- garlic chuck in however much you want. depending on how much you want to chop. i go for a whole bulb but even 4 cloves will do. it also depends on how much you want to taste it i guess
- onions at least one but again, as many as you want. i tend to put in all my onions since its common for me to forget i have them and have to throw them out when they go all manky.
- other vegetables i throw in anything that has to get used before it starts to grow legs. but i can suggest olives, mushrooms, zucchini, tomato chunks, celery, carrots, capers, corn. seriously. ANYTHING.
- stock i use some vegetable stock an a meat stock, either beef or chicken, either OR neither will do depending on whether you're going for a non/meat version. with meat stock in, it means you get meat flavour without putting any meat in. meat can be pretty expensive so its a good way to get around spending more money.
- water this is going to be one of those important ingredients that you tend to forget about. just keep a mug of water handy. you'll need it.
- some music and a drink to pass the time
i should start off by suggesting you get into some clothes that are comfy and ok to get dirty. this stuff splashes like a 2 year old in mud. i went to the $2 shop and bought this lovely little apron for splashes and because i have this tendency (from my days in preschool) to wipe my hands on myself without thinking about the after effect. you also want to get some good music going in there because you're going to spend a great deal of time getting to know your kitchen. i like to also use this time to burrow in my cupboard for all that tea that i forgot i had. sometime i have some wine (i'm usually too cheap to buy any...) but if you have WHITE WINE you can serve yourself some (for sampling purposes... of course!!) and throw in a cup or so of it. you want to be only cooking with white wine, red wine should never be heated because it goes really sour and yuck (that's technical speak). if you own any seats or better yet kitchen stools, GET IT IN THE KITCHEN ALREADY.
so now we get to the cooking (finally).
get yourself your biggest cooking pot, well any will do but the bigger ones make it look so much more impressive... throw in your tomatoes and tomato paste. i start the heat on a high (ish) temperature to get it bubbling (i'm too impatient to simmer the whole time). also throw in your herbs, some olive oil (i don't tend to use measurements. i figure you can't go wrong. and if you do, its always fixable) and your stock.
to make stock, get a mug and put in a teaspoon/cube of stock to a cup of water. hot water will dissolve it quicker but i'm too impatient to wait for it to boil so i tend to use cold water and stir for longer. THROW IT IN!!
there really isn't a rule on how much to use. sometimes when i'm lazy i just throw it all in to the pot instead of dissolving first in liquid and then just throw in the cup of water into the pet. if there's a corner to cut, you bet i'll do it.
so just leave it to bubble away, you want the pot to be full of liquid so just put in a cup or so of water, i fill the jar of tomato paste with water, close it and shake and chuck it in. helps clean the jar AND gets you the bits that were stuck in there. once its bubbling lower the heat so it doesn't burn on the bottom. my stove setting goes up to 8. 6 is already a pretty high setting. i start it off on 5 and then when its boiling go down to 3 which is a simmering type of heat setting i guess.
leave it to do its thing and turn to your vegetables. chop it all up to whatever size pleases you. i go for smaller, its easier to get in the jar, is less likely to go soggy and people who are vegetable phobes don't notice them so much. sometimes i like to pan fry the onion and garlic first and then chuck it in, i don't really know if it makes any difference to the overall taste but it smells good so you can't go wrong. other times i just chuck it all in and let the sauce cook it.
make sure every now and then you stir the whole thing, especially making sure to scrape the bottom of your pot. you don't want anything sticking, it makes for a difficult time when you're cleaning up afterwards and you don't want burnt bits floating through your sauce. i have this lovely titanium pot that won't let anything stick
this is a good time to make your tea, wipe down your bench surfaces and start cleaning up those chopping boards, knives and doodads you used. i hate cleaning and i find that this is the perfect time to fit it all in. i clean a little, stir the pot, clean a bit, have a drink, stir the pot, clean.. you get the idea.
get your music set up and make sure you have all your jars ready and clean! i also use my time to update the recipe tutorial, play spider solitaire, check facebook, emails, msn and just about every other internet procrastination available to me :)
if the pot is bubbling too much and starts spitting all over the place, lower the heat a bit and stand back. you'll get splattered a bit and it hurts!!
after half an hour you should notice that it's starting to evaporate a bit ie: you've got less in there than you started with because the water is steaming away. never fear, this is supposed to happen. when your sauce has bubbled away to half or a third of what you started with, add more water until you're back to the original amount of liquid you started off with, stir and leave to bubble away again.
here are a few shots of the pot at different stages of cooking. notice the line at the top of the pot that shows how much i let it boil away and then refill with water to the top
i tend to let it cook for 3 to 5 hours so this is why i recommend music and using the time to clean. as long as you have the heat low and keep coming back to stir and check on it, you'll be ok to leave the kitchen.
every now and then get yourself a spoon-full and taste it. when its a thickness and taste that you're happy with, take it off the heat and let it cool. get yourself a plate and a ladle. put your jar on the plate and ladle the sauce in. it's going to slop all over the place so having it on the plate makes it easier to clean up.close up your jar, move onto the next jar and keep filling jars until all the sauce is done. rinse your jars because they'll be all saucy and put them in the fridge. to make them last longer in the fridge, leave a centimetre gap at the top and put in olive oil, it helps preserve it. if you use plastic jars (i use old peanut butter jars) you can freeze them. DON'T FREEZE GLASS JARS!! they explode!!
here you can see the sauce being poured into the jar and how splattery it is and the jar being topped up with olive oil to help it live longer