Smoked Tomato/Garlic/Basil/Eggplant Sauce

Update: Just made this again with the final tomatoes of the season. Refined the recipe a bit and produced a sauce that is pretty close to perfect. The tomato intensity is kicked up several notches with the rest of the spices adding a subtle kick.

Some recipe as below, but:

  • Nearly double the number of tomatoes. Ended up with three layers and filled in the gaps with cherry and pear tomatoes.
  • Put the basil and garlic only on the first layer. Half the amount of garlic. Do not mince the basil leaves. Pile tomatoes on top.
  • Sprinkle with Italian Seasoning instead of crushed Thyme and considerably less dry spice than before.
  • Cook for about 2.5 hours at about 220 – 270 degrees.

Smoked Tomato Sauce Post Food Mill

That’s right, smoked tomato sauce.

As we are in the midst of a kitchen remodel, we have no oven. Or, I should say, we (and by “we”, I mean “I”) are using some combination of the Big Green Egg and the Cobb to do our baking and baking-like cooking.

Coincidentally, my community garden plot is producing Tons of Tomatoes. That is about it. Everything else this year has been a failure due to weird plant mojo and neglect. But tomatoes? I got em!

In any case, if you want to make a tangy, slightly smoky, incredibly tasty tomato sauce, it is quite easy! No need for a Big Green Egg, either, as this sauce could be made quite easily on a gas grill, in an oven, on a charcoal grill, or in anything else that can hold a temperature between 300 and 400 degrees for a couple of hours.


Update:

n[ate]vw asked about “off flavors”:

Could you elaborate a bit on tomatoes getting “roasted such that the heat totally changes the flavor”? When we’ve made tomato soup and spaghetti sauce, they’ve both ended up with an unexpected “off” flavor from what we’re used to — hard to describe, but it’s almost like the sauce is too fresh or something. Could this have something to do with the cooking temperature? Or would it have more to do with things like the tomato variety, us blending the skins and seeds together, or that we don’t pump HFCS into our mix like the store bought stuff?

The sauce had no off flavor, but I know what you are talking about. The food mill I used prevented almost all skin and seeds from making it into the sauce. I could easily imagine that pulverizing the seeds could quite distinctly change the flavor and in potentially unfavorable ways.

As I’m interested in this subject, I did a bit of research and found that tomatoes are exquisitely complex little beasties. They have dozens and dozens of uniquely identifiable organic compounds that contribute to the flavor, texture, aromatics, and cooking qualities of the fruit.

In particular, it seems that storage temperature can grossly impact tomato flavor. Specifically, cold storage — in the fridge — for any length of time can radically change the flavor, and not necessarily for the better!

Of the numerous articles I found, this one was particularly informative.

Given the acidity of tomatoes, I would also recommend avoiding cooking in aluminum or reactive metals. I could only get away with cast iron because the wok is both well seasoned, providing a layer of oil as a seal, and I was cooking a relatively large volume for the surface area involved. But, still, there was a hint of iron flavor in the final sauce — nothing unpleasant as cast iron is a relatively non-offensive metal — but it would be really bad with aluminum or other reactive metal.


Read on for details!


Smoked Tomato Sauce Base

I used a large cast iron wok to cook the tomatoes. In the oven, a couple of baking dishes would work fine, too. Whatever you use, make sure it has relatively high walls as the tomatoes will ooze out a ton of juice.

Start by cleaning a bunch of tomatoes. The amount depends entirely on how much volume of tomato cookery you have at hand.

Halve the tomatoes and lay them out in the cooking container(s).

On top of the halved tomatoes, toss on some finely diced garlic, basil, olive oil, salt (tuffle salt works well), black pepper and, optionally, some thyme, oregano, and/or a touch of chile peppers.

Smoked Tomato Sauce Stacked

If you have a particularly deep baking container, lay down a second (or third) layer of tomatoes, covered in the various ingredients at hand.

Once I had created a double layer of tomatoes, I remembered I had some eggplant on hand, too. Thus, I diced the eggplant and tossed it on top of everything.

Into the oven or grill the tomatoes go.

Roast for about an hour and a half at somewhere around 300 to 350 degrees. I would suggest cranking the temperature a bit near the last 15 to 30 minutes — I opened the vents and let the Egg crawl up to about 400 degrees before pulling off the wok.

Smoked Tomato Sauce Roasted

The end result will be squishy soft tomatoes that have been roasted such that the heat totally changes the flavor, bringing out that distinct tanginess of cooked tomatoes.

If you look closely at the picture to the left, you’ll see that the tomatoes are sitting in quite a bit of juice. I highly recommend spooning off some of the juice and soaking some bits of bread in it!

Take the tomatoes and most of the juice and run it through a food mill into a deep sauce pan. I used hand cranked food mill.

Bring the mixture up to a boil, mix in a liberal amount of white wine, and then simmer for a while to thicken the sauce.

Works great on pasta. The chefs at Apple — whom I gave a taste in our ongoing food adventures — suggested that it would work really well as the sauce over baked red snapper. Gotta try that!

This weekend, I’m going to make another batch of sauce and then slow cook a hunk of beef roast in it. Should be good!



5 Responses to “Smoked Tomato/Garlic/Basil/Eggplant Sauce”

  1. n[ate]vw says:

    Could you elaborate a bit on tomatoes getting “roasted such that the heat totally changes the flavor”? When we’ve made tomato soup and spaghetti sauce, they’ve both ended up with an unexpected “off” flavor from what we’re used to — hard to describe, but it’s almost like the sauce is too fresh or something. Could this have something to do with the cooking temperature? Or would it have more to do with things like the tomato variety, us blending the skins and seeds together, or that we don’t pump HFCS into our mix like the store bought stuff?

  2. Mike says:

    Making pizza sauce shouldn’t be too hard on the grill, either – I roast my tomatoes (whole) directly on the grill until they feel squishy all over (usually 10 minutes or so at full-blast or close to it, depending on the grill), put them in a glass casserole dish or some non-reacting dish to hold the hot tomatoes, and let them cool to the touch.

    Next, peel the skin, cut the tomatoes in half width-wise and squeeze out the seeds and juice. Put the tomatoes in a saucepan and either mash them or squeeze them with your hands until you get a near-fine consistency. Since you have a food mill, using that would probably be best (and easiest). Normally you would put the tomato meat in a saucepan with a little bit of olive oil and some salt to taste, then simmer the sauce until it reduces to a thick consistency with little liquid remaining. However, I think you could still pull this off in your BGE, albeit with a much longer time to reduce the sauce – plus you’d need to stir every so often to avoid singing the sauce, or figure a way to do slow cooking without needing to stir.

    While regular tomato sauce will work fine, I’ve found the reduced nature of the pizza sauce will work best with thin crust pizzas so the sauce doesn’t make the crust soggy as it’s cooking. For deep dish, it probably won’t matter.

    Also, if your BGE is large enough to fit a pizza stone, making pizzas in a grill is great – I do thin crusts in my Weber gas grill during the summer, and it’s better than doing it in my kitchen because there are no smoke alarms outside to sound off from the high temps I use to bake my pizzas!

    Pardon the tangent, as I just picked up a bunch of tomatoes from my grandpa’s garden last night, and I plan to make pizza sauce this weekend. My Italian blood is singing at the thought…

  3. Mike says:

    Forgot to mention that I add basil (fresh stuff from my grandpa’s garden, too) with the oil and salt when I’m preparing the sauce. Maybe a couple cracks of black pepper, too.

  4. Amie says:

    I’m in the middle of making a vat of pizza sauce as we speak. We don’t have a food mill, so when we do our tomatoes, we criss-cross the bottom of the skin with a knife and drop in boiling water a few seconds to peel them more easily, then cut the tomatoes in half (longways between the stem and the bottom) then squeeze all of the juice and guts out by hand. The resulting strained tomato juice makes fantastic bloody marys, btw. Anyhow–that’s a variation for those who are foodmill-less but want to give the rest of your recipe a go.

    The eggplant sounds like a fantastic addition, btw. Will have to try that with a future batch!

  5. n[ate]vw says:

    Found a link to this post on my desktop tonight that I was saving for when I’d tried it. I made a batch of spaghetti sauce with the last tomatoes of the season, and squeezed most of the seeds and juice out (saved for my wife to use in chili!) I blended only the skins, which made a nice paste I added partially to the sauce and partly to the chili. While the tomatoes had been sort of frostbitten, the result had none of that weird off flavor. So, belated thanks for your suggestions!

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