Super pasta sauce for canning!

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Hi all – it’s been that kind of summer with too much going on for me to be posting as often as I want. Apologies – and also, this pasta sauce canning recipe is from last year but it’s very very good so I hope you don’t mind. Mea culpa! I’ve been writing and proofing, making up a Sunday crossword puzzle, entertaining guests from near and far, canning pickles – you know the drill. It’s summer in Maine.

One thing I learned about canning pickles… or any canning, for that matter. When you put lids and bands into a small pot of hot water before canning, sometimes the lids stick together and you barely notice it. They sandwich very nicely. Well, lo and behold, on one jar of pickles I topped it off unknowingly with two lids and the band, went through the 15-minute boiling process, discovered I was one lid short of the number I’d laid out earlier, and told myself “No way are those two lids on that third jar going to pop down.” I decided, well, it’ll just go into the fridge instead.

Sonofagun, when I took the jars to let them cool (I did just 3 jars), I heard 2 lids pop down very quickly, and about 5 minutes later a loud snap – like a small firecracker – when the double-lidded jar popped down. Lesson? You can can with 2 lids together and still succeed! Who knew? (The Ball people know – they know everything).

So here’s my repost… thanks for your patience.

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Amazing knock-your-socks-off pasta sauce…

DSC_0080smallThree quarts out of 20, labeled Batch 3, 2 stars (very good). Surprise ingredients here – red wine, balsamic vinegar, beef stock base..

Ingredients, tips, and BALL-derdash

So I’ve done my pasta sauce (20 quarts, thank you) and some diced tomatoes and the salsa is yet to come, maybe next week, from the sad little end-of-season guys (tomatoes) I have tucked into their snuggly sealed-up brown paper bag to ripen at their own leisurely pace. But regardless of how pointless this is, I want to tell you about this pasta sauce – which has won raves from people we’ve given it to – and how some of the tips from the Ball jar people in Muncie, Indiana are just plain BALLderdash.

First, my pasta sauce ingredients, for 1 quart of sauce (but I usually do 4-5 quarts at a time):

  • Tomatoes. Can’t tell you how many, maybe 6-8 decent sized ones. They’re cored and usually cut in half, then steamed over (not in) boiling water for 6-9 minutes, depending on how ripe they are (less time for really ripe ones), then peeled (so much fun!) and put in a stockpot and mashed with a potato masher, then in a food processor for 3-4 pulses and that’s it.
  • Tomato paste from a can. Oh no, cheating! Yes, it hurts my pride, but the paste is a good thickener, and it has citric acid in it, and citric acid (like its cousin acetic acid, or white vinegar) is a good preservative. I use about 4 oz. of paste per quart, sometimes a little more.
  • Better Than Bouillon beef base. More cheating! I can’t give my sauce to vegetarians because of this, which leaves more for my wife and me. I use about a hefty tablespoon of the beefy/salty goo per quart. It provides some salt, some richness to the color of the sauce, and a je ne sais quoi to the flavor. Call it umami.
  • Garlic. As the air we breathe is to our lungs, so is garlic to pasta sauce. 2-3 fat cloves, pressed or minced, per quart. You can saute ahead of time in olive oil, but hey, it’s more work, and not necessary.
  • Red wine. About 1 to 1 1/2 oz. Part of the magic!
  • Balsamic vinegar – more magic! About a tablespoon.
  • Olive oil. About a tablespoon. I use regular olive oil, not the extra virgin, which I think is too heavy and greasy.
  • Brown sugar – about 2 tsps, but only if the sauce isn’t sweet enough.
  • Oregano and basil – about 1 tbsp. each. I use fresh basil from the garden, finely chopped.
  • Cayenne pepper to taste for some extra oomph.
  • Green bell pepper, chopped. About 1/2 a medium sized pepper. Don’t include the white fleshy membrane stuff – too spoogey. The pepper goes into the mix at the very end.

Get ready to combine all this stuff into a large stockpot. Maybe you’re doing five quarts at once – good, but that’ll max out your stockpot (usually).

Tip 1: When ladling your mashed tomatoes into the food processor, fill it to about 16 oz. with both tomatoes and liquid, but for the next 16 oz. use a slotted spoon to fish out tomato meats without the liquid. This will save lots of time when reducing the sauce on the stove. 3 to 4 quick pulses, and pour into your stockpot. Add everything else (except the chopped pepper), mix well, and get the sauce gently bubbling over low heat.

Tip 2: The good people at Ball tell you, for a basic sauce, to reduce the mix by one half. BALL-derdash!! That’s a lot of time, propane, and stirring. I think they expect you to want a really thick, gooey sauce, which is fine if you want to mimic store-bought pasta sauce, but no, this is your sauce (and mine) and it doesn’t have to be thick and gooey. I suggest reducing the volume of the sauce by one quarter at most. After all, they’re your tomatoes, and who wants to see half of them vanish into steam? But it’s your call: reduce the sauce until it has a texture and thickness that appeals to you. When you’re nearly done, throw in the green peppers.

Tip 3: The good people at Ball also tell you to add a teaspoon of bottled lemon juice to your quart jar when you’re canning. BALL-derdash! The lemon juice adds citric acid, which extends shelf life (this may be their lawyers talking), but you’ve already got plenty of acid from the tomatoes themselves, the tomato paste, and the balsamic vinegar. Skip the lemon juice, unless you like a really sour sauce that tastes a little like lemonade.

An assortment of canning tips: This is a hot water bath canning process, so fill your canning pot with hot tap water to within about 6 inches from the top (for 5 quart jars). Using a jar lifter, lower in the jars (without the lids), filling them with water, and turn the burner on high. In a separate small saucepot, heat some water and put in 5 lids and bands. You want the jars, lids and bands to heat to about 180 degrees, but not boiling. Important: it’s risky using “last year’s lids” – lids that have already been pried open. They usually won’t seal again because they’ve been crimped. Always use brand new lids.

When they’re all heated up, ladle the sauce into the jars with a funnel, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Keep the rims of the jars clean. Now put on the lids and bands. The people at Ball tell you to tighten the bands finger-tightBALL-derdash!! That’s not tight enough – you should tighten with your whole hand. Tight, but not super tight. I’ve done “finger-tight” before, with tragic results I’d rather not share.

Put the jars into the canner making sure you have at least 1/2 ” of water over the tops of the jars, and when the water boils, cover, and let it boil gently for 45 minutes. When done, remove the cover and leave the jars alone for five minutes or so before removing. Lids may “pop down” even when they’re still in the hot water, but usually they pop down after you remove them. I place the jars on a dishtowel and wait to hear 5 popping sounds. Success!

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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.