Sunday Gravy – The Tomato Sauce Base

In Part 1 of our Sunday Gravy Experiment, I introduced you to the basic plan of creating a rich tomato sauce that will, over time, be fortified and enriched by having various meats and vegetables cooked in it for a  series of different meals. In Part 2 of the series,  I made a rich stock using pork hocks and beef bones and this will form the beginnings of the gravy itself. If you wish to follow along with the process but don’t really want to bother with making your own stock, you can always substitute a commercial chicken broth, but I think you will find the homemade really improves the final product.

In either event, it is now time to move on to making the actual tomato sauce…

The Ingredients

  • 4 x 28oz cans of Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 quart rich meat stock (not shown)
  • 2 cups Onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 head Garlic, cloves peeled and chopped
  • 1 pint Red Wine
  • 1 tsp. ground Black Pepper
  • 1 – 2 tsp. Salt (or to taste)

In many recipes for tomato sauce, you will see other flavorings such as oregano, or thyme being added. However, for now, I want to keep the basic sauce as simple and generic as possible.

The Method

The first step will allow me to introduce two Italian cooking terms which may not be familiar to you: these are ‘Battuto’ and ‘Soffritto’. The battuto has an interesting culinary history but, in modern parlance, it generally is constituted by what is known in French cookery as a ‘Mirepoix’, and consists of finely chopped onion, celery and carrot, with garlic usually being added as well. Once this mélange is sautéed in some fat or other, it is then known as a soffritto and is a common flavor for many Italian dishes. Olive oil or butter are often used, but for this experiment, I will be using the tasty fat rendered from Pork Belly Confit experiment from not long ago.

To begin, melt your fat in a deep pot over moderate heat and then add the onions first. Sauté until they are translucent, but not browned, and then add the carrot. When this has softened slightly add the celery. Continue to sauté until the celery is soft as well and then add the garlic, the pepper and a generous pinch or two of salt.

Once the garlic has softened and you can smell the aroma, add the stock, the tomatoes and the wine. Bring this to a low boil and then turn down the heat, cover, and allow to simmer gently for one to two hours.

Once the sauce has cooked sufficiently and all the vegetables are broken down, you need to blend it to a smooth consistency. In a food processor, this will be a bit of a chore, so, if you have one, I recommend using an immersion blender. Once you have done this, you will need to continue simmering, this time uncovered, until the sauce reduces somewhat and takes on a consistency a little thicker than that of a commercial tomato soup. The time for this will vary depending on the initial fluidity, but an hour or two should suffice.

Here you can see a sample of the reduced sauce. For now, I will just be putting the whole batch into the fridge to await the next step in the project and to allow the flavors to develop. Since the whole point of this exercise is to see how long we can extend this sauce it will be necessary, from time to time, to reheat the sauce, even when it is not being used for a specific meal, so as to prevent it from going off. About once or twice a week will be necessary, and I will be keeping a running record of these operations as the experiment progresses.

Since Originally writing this post, I continued the project with the following preparations using the ‘Gravy’:

12 thoughts on “Sunday Gravy – The Tomato Sauce Base”

  1. oh how i want to go eeeekkkk….but since i I had a crazy german culinary master in my last year of school i know that with out the meat protien in it (which is a low ph food)….it should be relitivly easy to extend…but canning tomato sauce is easy too….boil you jars and lids and fill clean with hot sauce, clean up mess , lid and boil filled jars….cool until you hear the pop of the seals…voila extended sauce…and a lot less of a chance – off ness. But since its an experament ….good luck i guess , not really sure what ppl say to scientists lol

    1. Actually, by extending, I don’t mean storing for later use. The focus of this excercise is to keep the same volume of sauce going by continually adding to it as it is depleted so that layers of different flavors develop over time…

  2. I “boat motor” my tomatoes in advance. I can my own tomatoes so they are in bigger chunks. I always hold back some of the gravy and freeze to add to new gravy, but so far, haven’t done more than three generations of the gravy. Taking a cue from the Chinese about the master sauce is a great idea. I’m looking forward to the ongoing Gravy Experiment.

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