3 ribs celery
1 sweet onion
1/2 bell pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
5 lbs. beefsteak tomatoes
2 large leaves sage (about 1 teaspoon)
6-8 sprigs thyme (about 1 teaspoon)
2 long sprigs oregano (about 2 teaspoons)
1 handful basil leaves (about 1/4 cup)
2-4 cloves garlic (about 2 teaspoons minced)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon coarse Himalayan pink salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
24 oz. tomato paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
Fill two large pots with water. Set one of them to boil.
Wash 3 ribs of celery, cut off the ends, then slice into thin crescents. (If the bottom parts are really wide, cut stalk into thirds and split the lower thirds vertically before slicing.) Peel and dice the onion. Remove seeds and ribs from half a bell pepper and dice the pepper. Combine vegetables in a medium bowl.
Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into a large crock pot. Add mixed vegetables. Turn crock pot on Low and cover it.
Wash the tomatoes. Core them and score the sides. When water reaches a rolling boil, add tomatoes 2-3 at a time. Wait 30-60 seconds until skins begin to wrinkle and peel. Transfer tomatoes to cold water. Remove and discard skins. Dice the peeled tomatoes. Add them to crock pot and stir.
Gather 2 large leaves sage, 6-8 sprigs thyme, and 1 handful basil leaves. With kitchen scissors, cut the sage leaves in half, removing large ribs. Stack the slices and snip into small bits over the crock pot. Wad the thyme into a cylinder and snip it into the crock pot. Strip the oregano leaves off the stems; discard stems. Wad the oregano leaves into a cylinder and snip them into the crock pot. Tear the basil leaves in half or quarters, removing large ribs. Roll them into a cylinder and snip into the crock pot. Then stir.
Peel and mince 2-4 cloves of garlic and add to crock pot. Add 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon coarse Himalayan pink salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Stir again.
Cook on Low for 2 hours. Stir, then taste. Add 24 oz. tomato paste. Stir carefully until fully blended. Cook another hour or so. Stir, then taste. The spaghetti sauce will probably be sour. Stir in 1 tablespoon brown sugar and
1/4 cup molasses. Ignore for another hour or so.
At this point, the sauce is built, though only partway cooked. To fine-tune the flavor, taste and pay careful attention to what is changing as the sauce cooks. If it tastes flat, try adding a little more salt and black pepper. If it’s still sour, add a bit of brown sugar. Add one or two things at a time if needed, then wait half an hour to an hour for them to blend in properly. Continue stirring and tasting occasionally.
The sauce is done when: 1) all the vegetables are translucent and tender; 2) the body of the sauce is thick, opaque, and deep red; and 3) you feel satisfied with the flavor. This takes about 8-10 hours total, depending on the crock pot.
Stir the sauce. Find and remove the bay leaf. If you are serving the sauce fresh, it can be poured over pasta or placed on the table for people to use as they wish. If you are storing it, pour the sauce into containers to refrigerate or freeze. This recipe makes about 9-10 cups of sauce. I usually pour a 2 1/2 cup carton of sauce over spaghetti to feed 3-4 people, so figure this at 11-14 servings.
I like to use full-flavor olive oil – an import if I have some – for cooking when it’s an ingredient added for flavor. If you don’t like olive oil that much, you can use a bland variety.
Beefsteak or “slicing” tomatoes are round and firm, with thick juicy flesh. They are not really intended for making sauce, but they are terrific for flavor and for chunks. Pretty much any beefsteak cultivar will do. Depending on size, 5 lbs. will be about 8-10 beefsteak tomatoes. I had 9.
When dicing tomatoes for spaghetti sauce, make the pieces slightly larger than you want. They’ll cook down some. This recipe makes a thick, chunky sauce.
If you don’t have fresh herbs, you can substitute dried herbs. Cut the amounts about in half and then taste.
Use plain tomato paste if you can find it, because if there are spices that will affect the flavor. I used two 12 oz. cans of IGA Tomato Paste (“Ingredients: tomatoes.”) in mine.
Himalayan pink salt is a gourmet salt with a mild mineral flavor, not as strong as Hawaiian red salt. This goes well with tomatoes. If you don’t have any, use sea salt or table salt. If using fine salt, use about half as much, then taste.
It helps to know how your taste buds work. My mouth thinks better when I taste the spaghetti sauce by itself. Doug’s mouth thinks better when he puts the sauce on a cracker (to provide a starch substitute for spaghetti).
This sauce is more susceptible to overcooking than some other spaghetti sauces I have made, possibly due to the large amount of tomato paste. Take care during the last few hours as it thickens.
Ingredients cost three dollars and change for the tomatoes (imperfect ones on sale), a dollar and change for the tomato paste (found at a salvage store), and maybe another dollar for everything else; so about six or seven dollars total, breaking down to about fifty cents per serving. All the leafy herbs that grow in this climate – the sage, thyme, oregano, and basil – came from my garden.