September 11th, 2010
01:00 AM ET
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Jenny D’Attoma is a segment producer at Showbiz Tonight.

Labor Day rolls around each year, and while that brings about the inevitable sadness at summer's ending, in Casa D’Attoma, the sauce making is just getting started. My family's tradition of crafting it from scratch started back in Italy with my parents, both born in Calabria. Now my in-laws - who hail from Bari and Sicily - also pitch in.

My father begins by searching for the best bushels of tomatoes he can find: this year, six lovely bushels of Roma tomatoes. The first step is to wash every single tomato well, picking out the ones that may look a little bit mushy, and them making sure every one is nice and dry again before we begin turning them into sauce. Then everyone gets involved with cutting each tomato into pieces, which will then be stewed over a fire.

As much as we love the whole process, I have to admit that the cutting takes a long, long time. So you what do we do? We eat while we work! It can’t be all toil and no eating. Good food is indeed a function of being a good Italian; for us, it’s all about the food, all the time.

After the tomatoes cook over that fire, and they have softened they are ready to meet ‘Big Red’! That’s the mega tomato machine that my husband and my mother-in-law are smiling over in the pictures above (eight hours later may have shown a different scene). ‘Big Red’ separates the seeds and the skins from the tomato juice and the pulp and then that “golden” juice returns to a pot over the fire for one last time.

The finished sauce is funneled those trusty mason jars that are layered at the bottom with a couple pieces of homegrown basil. The jars are sealed and then go, "to bed" where they rest on the floor of my garage, covered in blankets for about a week.

This year we made 140 jars - not too shabby! When the whole process is said and done, we clean up and we eat, again. That night it was ravioli and some lobster – I think you can guess where the sauce came from!

Our 10-Step Recipe for Tomato Sauce

1. One bushel of Roma tomatoes yields between 19 – 23 quart sized mason jars. The jars should be sanitized in a dishwasher first. Make sure lids and rings are not rusty and are nice and clean. Rings and lids can be sanitized in a pot of boiling water on the stove.

2. Wash and fully dry tomatoes, putting aside any pieces that are very bruised or too mushy.

3. Quarter tomatoes and put in a pot - stainless steel preferred

4. When the pot is full, top off with approx 1/4 cup Red Cross salt and about 6 oz olive oil (extra virgin if you have it)

5. Stew tomatoes on stove top until they become very soupy and limp. Keep the heat low. You do not want to scorch the bottom of the pan, so be vigilant about stirring.

6. While the stew is very hot pass through an electric tomato milling machine. There are manual ones but I don’t advise it!.The milling machine will separate the seeds and the skin from the juice and the pulp. The juice and the pulp should go into another pot because that will be going back on the stove to cook one final time. The seeds and skin should be passed through the food mill one more time before discarding because it will add some more pulp to your sauce.

7. The pot of sauce goes back on the stove to cook at low to medium temperature. Again, be vigilant about stirring. Once the sauce begins to boil mildly, you are almost there - just five more minutes.

8. Using a wide mouth funnel, pour sauce into jars, that have fresh basil at the bottom. The jars should be promptly sealed and tightened. Make sure you wipe away any sauce from around the mouth of the jar before you seal it. If any air gets in the jar after it is sealed, the sauce will spoil.

9. The jars should be laid down on their side and covered in an old comforter. I use my garage to store them. The idea is to keep the bottle of sauce warm for as long as possible. The jars of sauce should be kept under the blankets for at least a week. After that you can fill up your pantry with your fresh bottles of tomato sauce. They should last for about a year.

10. As you use your jars of tomato sauce, always smell the freshly opened jar first before using it. If it doesn’t smell good, toss it. You can then season the sauce with oregano, garlic, onions, pancetta – whatever suits your fancy. Cook on stove top for about 15-25 minutes (low to medium heat) with your desired seasonings.

“Cent’anni!” Toast with a good bottle of wine and enjoy!

Editor's note – if you plan to store sauce or any jarred goods unrefrigerated for an extended period of time, please follow proper sterilization processes as indicated by the jars' manufacturer.

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Filed under: Bite • Cuisines • Italian • Make • Recipes • Staples • Techniques & Tips • Tomatoes

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Josephine

    We do it similarily but with the exception of salting the tomatoes first, and when it is time to jar, we sterlize the jars by placing them in the oven (200 degrees) so it is hot sauce into hot jar. It has worked for us for over 28 years and the sauce has never ever spoiled. I do this every year with my now 88 year old mother and plan to continue the tradition with my children.

    September 9, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  2. Gretchen Neuman

    I wish I could have gotten help.. I went through a bushel of tomatoes by myself and don't have the strainer, so I had to peel and deseed by hand. ugh.

    October 15, 2010 at 10:48 am |
  3. Harry

    Wow... no water bath? See you guys in the ER.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  4. Maria Johns

    My family has been doing this for 65 years in the US and who know how long in Italy. The youngest members as well at the 80-somethings all participate in this day, NO EXCUSES! We tell stories about the family, remember family members that are no longer with us, and generally have a family affair that can not be duplicated. We wouldn't give it up for the world.
    The Aunts with two kitchens in the house have long moved to apartments. Its a little harder now. We used to can (jar) 300+ jars a year, but now 100 will take us through the year. It is made with love. Tradition!

    September 13, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
  5. No Mail

    I would skip the second cooking step as detailed and then place in the water bath canner – that would be your second cooking and much safer.

    September 13, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  6. Evil Grin

    We make sauce all the time, but not by this process. And when we can the sauce (or bottle it, whichever expression you prefer) we use mason jars and freeze the sauce. It turns out beautifully each time. Then again, we don't sell it, it's just a family thing. Big vegetable garden in the summer, frozen veggies/sauces/jams for much of the year. The sauce is the best part since my family practically lives off of tomato sauces.

    September 13, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  7. jdatts

    The tomato sauce is boiled twice – one when it is stewed down and then a 2nd time when it is sauce. – then put into jars. We have been doing it this way for 15 years in the states and my in-laws did it that way in Italy. and thankfully we haven't had a problem. You can do the "bagna maria" method as well – as you described above. Enjoy!

    September 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  8. carole

    ACK!!!! You don't process your jars?? This is very unsafe and NO ONE should follow this recipe!!!!

    September 12, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  9. Sheila

    What a wonderful family tradition! You must have a blast. Thanks for the recipe, I look forward to trying this with my daughter!

    September 11, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  10. terri

    I don't know of any more efficient way to can tomato sauce, the way they are doing it seems right. EXCEPT everything I have learned over the last 40 years says after filling the jars with the hot tomato, to then process the jars in the water bath canner for 45 minutes for quart sized jars. You wouldn't want to go through all this work and get botulism. And certainly on a food blog I would think that would be recommended.

    September 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
    • christie

      I totally agree that the jars should be processed properly! And for the author to instruct people otherwise on a food blog seems like a bad idea. However, I love the subject of the article–bringing people together to appreciate and respect good food. I have recently learned canning from a friend and have done pickles, tomato sauce, apple sauce and lots of different jams so far. It's time consuming but not hard to do.

      September 11, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  11. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    This sounds like a way to can things in the 60's. There are more efficient, yet similar, ways to do it these days.

    September 11, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  12. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    Pehaps "Family Making is a Sauce Affair"?

    September 11, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  13. terri

    Don't you process the jars in a waterbath or pressure cooker??

    September 11, 2010 at 6:58 am |
    • Jdatt

      No, you do not have to if you have sterilized the bottles and the sauce goes in extremely hot and sealed right away

      September 11, 2010 at 8:50 am |
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