Tomato Sauce: Buy It vs. Make It
Tomatoes. At this point, I’m overrun with them. They sit in waxed boxes hoping that I’ll do something with them before they get moldy, and I’m not going to disappoint. This week I thought I would try tomato sauce a few different ways: from fresh tomatoes (because I can) and from huge cans of diced tomatoes (because what if that’s a lot cheaper than jars? That would be awesome.)
Turning tomatoes into sauce can be as easy or as hard as you want — well, like most things, it turns out. A very simple sauce from fresh tomatoes can be turned out in 30 minutes flat, and is much, much more delicious than the jarred kind. I use this Mark Bittman recipe, which is similar to the one on our site with one time-saving difference: it doesn’t make me peel the tomatoes. You might try making smaller batches with two pounds of tomatoes each to see whether you like it with or without the skin, with roasted minced garlic or with diced browned onions.
Other things you can do to your sauce include: adding a cup of red wine or port and letting that cook down; adding tomato puree for thickness; letting it cool and then running it through a blender or food processor; adding a tablespoon of Worchestershire sauce or — and I’m serious about this, it’s the secret ingredient a lot of chefs swear by — anchovy paste; or throwing in a tablespoon or two of brown sugar.
(If you look at the ingredients on the side of your average jar of pasta sauce, sugar — sometimes in the form of high fructose corn syrup — is often there in much larger quantities than you realize; adding a little to your sauce will give you the same effect, but you’ll be able to control it better. )
The same goes for sauce made from canned tomatoes. That’s just insanely easy and, shockingly, my kids prefer it over the jarred kind.
I still have a soft spot for the delicate “thunk” sound of my husband opening a jar of Newman’s Own, then handing it to me and saying “Can’t get it. Give it another try, maybe I loosened it for you.”
Admittedly, there’s nothing easier than thunking open a jar, as outlined above. But the effort required is nothing like what I expected. If I want to take an hour or two to let the sauce simmer on the stove, I can do that, but it’s absolutely not required for a delicious sauce. And once it’s in the freezer, the future effort is nil.
Organic tomatoes are $1 a pound at the farmer’s market right now. According to the USDA, you need about 5 pounds of tomatoes for 1 quart (32 oz.) of sauce, which means it’s 15 cents an ounce. (This will vary, depending on what you add and how thick you like your sauce.) Safeway diced tomatoes in a can are 8 cents an ounce and up — so they’re half the cost. Safeway organic canned sauce is 11 cents an ounce, making it almost $2 more expensive per 16-ounce can. Jarred sauce runs around 14 cents an ounce (for the fancy Classico, O Organics, or Newman’s Own) to 8 cents an ounce for good ol’ Ragu. So … twice as much as making it from canned tomatoes, an even trade if you’ve gotten them from the farmer’s market, and if you’re awesome and you just harvested a truckload of the little suckers, it’s free (once you factor out the backbreaking — er, I mean pleasurable — hours spent tilling your soil and tying your vines).
Don’t try these recipes if you want to be able to continue buying jarred or canned tomato sauce, because once you taste the real thing, that whole romance will end. Seriously. Your affinity for jarred sauce will crash as quick as a Kardashian marriage.
What’s the verdict? Check out all our Buy It vs. Make It comparisons!