It's August, which means that we're smack in the middle of prime tomato season. So if you have a pile of fresh tomatoes to use up, but you don't have time to spend a day canning, you will love this recipe. And if your kiddos love pasta, you will double love it!
Between the 20 tomato plants that my husband planted and the ones we get each week in our CSA box, we have plenty of (too many?) tomatoes to work with. My husband makes a few batches of salsa each year and I'm in charge of the sauce—but between the kids and work, I don't have a ton of time to stand by the stove and do anything too labor intensive. Which is where the genius of the slow cooker comes in!
Previously, the idea of making sauce in the slow cooker made no sense to me because with the lid on, there's no chance for the liquid to evaporate. And trust me, fresh tomatoes have a ton of liquid that needs to cook off. But then I realized: Instead of cooking the liquid down, I could just separate it out.
The beauty of this method is that you basically just fill the slow cooker with chopped fresh tomatoes, let it cook on low overnight, and then strain out the solids from the liquid. You can use the liquid in chili and other soups where the tomato flavor would be a bonus (or in risotto!) and it freezes beautifully. And you simply then puree the tomato solids with a few spices, and voila, sauce is done!
So without ever turning on the stove or heating up the kitchen, you can make use of those garden fresh tomatoes while you sleep. (Okay, you have a little work to do in the morning and you still need to chop the tomatoes, but it's so much less intense than the traditional methods of tomato preserving.)
Slow Cooker Fresh Tomato Sauce
Scale up or down for a smaller or larger slow cooker. You don't have to be precise! And the chopped tomatoes can be in big pieces. Two-three-ish inches in size is totally okay. (Probably larger is fine too!$
Makes about 2 quarts (depending on the size of your slow cooker).
Enough fresh tomatoes to fill a 4-5 quart slow cooker to the very top, very roughly chopped with stems discarded
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
Handful fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
- Fill the slow cooker with chopped fresh tomatoes, stems discarded, and the garlic. Cover and cook on low overnight, or for about 8-10 hours.
- Remove the lid and let cool for 30-60 minutes. (This makes it possible to blend them without the risk of the steam making your blender explode. Which is key.)
- Use a large slotted spoon or small mesh spoon to scoop out the tomato solids and garlic into a blender, leaving the liquid in the slow cooker. Add oregano, salt, olive oil, and basil and blend into a smooth sauce. (You may need to do two batches.)
- Pour into freezer containers or storage bags and freeze for up to 1 year. Thaw overnight in the fridge. (Don't worry if it looks a little separated—it will come back together when it's warmed up.)
To use, heat a pot over medium heat, add sauce, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Meat sauce: Brown 1 pound of ground beef, turkey, or even sausage before Step 5. Add the sauce and simmer, to make a simple meat sauce.
Ratatouille sauce: Add a chopped yellow squash, eggplant, and onion to the tomato mixture in the slow cooker. Proceed as directed.
Stovetop: You can do this method on the stovetop if you prefer, ladling off spoonfuls of liquid as it separates out. Or simply let it bubble away all day!
Two other tomato tips:
- If you run out of time, simply store whole tomatoes in zip top freezer bags in the freezer until you have more time. Then, let thaw and proceed with the method.
- You can also do this in a large roasting pan—like the one you use to cook a turkey—in a 400 degree F oven. Cook for about two hours, stirring occasionally, then blend. Enough liquid should evaporate that you shouldn't need to drain any liquid off.