I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd spend some time exploring food and wine with you. Because I've been making so much Spaghetti sauce in the past few weeks, I thought that would be an appropriate starting point. Plus, who doesn't like Spaghetti?
Red wine in tomato sauce does a couple of important things. First, it adds a whole other level of flavor and depth to your sauce and second, it acts as the acid if you are canning. Many years ago, tomatoes had plenty of acid. As time has marched on and breeders have worked to create new varietals for traits like color and sweetness, some of that acid has been bred out of the fruit. To make your canning safe, adding some additional acid in the way of wine or vinegar is a great choice. Wine definitely wins for taste.
Here's how I roll: I harvest the freshest and most ripe tomatoes I've got. Any given day it's about 2 gallons after they are cored. I grab a large onion and a few bell peppers, whatever is fresh and ripe. Oh, and a couple of cloves of garlic. I heat a stock pot and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. In go the roughly chopped onion and peppers to sauté. I literally core the tomatoes, chop them in four big chunks and toss them into the pot as I go. Cherry tomatoes go in whole after the little stem is pulled off and will split open as they heat up. After all the tomatoes are in, I add salt, pepper, the garlic cloves and wine (usually at least 1/2 a bottle). I add oregano and basil to my liking (totally personal preference here) then let the whole pot bubble over medium until the tomatoes become visibly softened.
At this point, I grab my immersion blender. If you don't have one, i suggest you consider the purchase. They can be had at Big Lots for under $20 and will become your new favorite kitchen tool. I blend the slowly boiling sauce by pulsing, until the sauce is smooth. Then the heat is reduced to low and the whole thing simmers for a few hours. How long you simmer really depends on how thick a sauce you prefer. The longer it cooks, the more it will reduce and thicken. When I'm satisfied with the consistency, I sneak a little taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
I ladle the hot sauce into sterilized ball jars, leaving about two inches of space (also know as "head-room" at the top). I wipe any drips off the lip of the jar with a warm, damp kitchen towel so that it can form a strong bond to the lid. A lid (I always use #BallJars) goes on each jar and a metal ring is screwed on to hold the lid in place. I've usually started water heating in the hot water canner and can load the jars into the rack that fits inside. The rack full of jars is lowered into the hot water and the lid goes on the canner for about 35 minutes.
The timer goes off and the jars are lifted out and placed on a kitchen towel to catch any hot water and cool off. My favorite part of canning is hanging out in my kitchen during the cooling process and listening for the distinct "pop" of each lid pressurizing. This noise signals a successful seal. After the jars have completely cooled, I make sure to label them with the contents of the jar and the date.
The proportions I gave above yield about (8) quart jars of spaghetti sauce. You can truly reduce or multiply this recipe with excellent results. Like it hot? Add some hot pepper flakes or chilis before the puree step and voila! You've made diablo sauce.
One final word on wine-don't pick something that's crappy. Seriously. You want to taste the delicious flavors so cook with something that you'd drink. NEVER use the "cooking wine" sold at the grocery store. It's gross. In the batch pictured, I used a lovely bottle of 2007 #Raymond Merlot. It had a little age on it and the tart cherry and spicy black pepper nuances were perfect with the robust tomatoes. So perfect, that no-one would judge if you enjoyed a glass as you worked. Cheers!
PRO TIP: Want to learn more about food and wine? My favorite resource ever is a book by Andrew Dornenburg & Karen Page. It may hold a record for the world's longest book title: What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea - Even Water - Based on Expert Advice from America's Best Sommeliers
Elizabeth Morse cooks professionally, is an Advanced Master Gardener and lover of all things local.