Late August is the height of tomato season here in Wisconsin and the time to put up the bounty for the long, cold winter ahead. To this end, over the years I’ve given myself to such excruciating practices as blanching and peeling and sterilizing the jars and processing them for 45 minutes per quart. This summer, however, I decided to shed the chains of bondage that is canning and freeze my tomatoes instead. Because freezer space is not an issue to me (I have 3 full-size deep freezers), and because life is too short, I count this among my most brilliant labor-saving solutions yet.
It is also worth noting that I only use canned tomatoes in one way: blending them the moment they emerge from a jar, I add them to dishes requiring anywhere between 30 min to 2 hours of reduction, so a quick, unreduced sauce is all I need.
So here’s what I did:
I started by coring the tomatoes and cutting them up into halves or quarters, depending on their size. Peeling and seeding don’t belong in my world as I consider myself above seedless tomato sauces, finding them uneconomical, lacking in body and texture, and all-around bourgeois. No worries, the skin becomes virtually indiscernible after blending.
Sprinkle some Kosher salt on top and add a little water to give the stewing process a start.
About this much.
Bring everything to a fast simmer, helping the tomatoes along with a potato masher if you like, and cook them, uncovered, for approximately 25-30 minutes.
The tomatoes above are not yet ready to be blended – while they have released a lot of liquid, we want them to really cook through and soften (though not cook down).
The tomatoes are ready when they look like this. Remove them from heat and let cool.
Now whip out your immersion blender and give it all a buzz. If you don’t have one, buy one promptly – mine is a cheap $15 Hamilton Beach model, but I’ve used it for years and find it absolutely indispensable for a whole variety of tasks, from smoothies to making cream soups. Unlike with an upright blender or a food processor, the clean-up is virtually non-existent with one of these.
Pour into 1-quart ziplock bags (I will probably be using 2 bags per dish). Several points here:
- Your bags must be freezer, not storage bags, so pay attention to the package you are buying.
- Because we are dealing with a liquid here, buy bags that come with closures (the blue zipper thingies above) – you won’t believe how much frustrations you will be saving yourself this way.
- It is best if you stand the bags up in a pot before pouring to minimize the spills and provide extra support.
- The cleanest way to pour is by using something with a lip – I used my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup, and note that I didn’t dip it in the sauce before pouring – I put the cup on the counter and poured the sauce into it first so no sauce would drip from the outside of the cup as I was trying to fill the bags.
- And, since we are dealing with liquid, I put the bags in the freezer in the pot they were in. Reclaim the pot once the bags are fully frozen.
- Note that, if you freeze your bags in a metal pot, the bags will freeze to the pot. To release them, place the pot upside-down in the sink and run hot water over the bottom and then between the bags in the pot if needed. Or you could use a plastic bowl to save yourself some of the hassle (you might still need to run the water between the bags to get them unstuck).
FREEZING UPDATE: Calamity Jane suggested the following tip for more efficient freezing of sauce-filled bags: “If you freeze those bags laid out two or three deep on a cookie sheet, they make perfect square packages for freezer efficiency.”