Use baking soda or butter to improve bitter tomato sauce

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Dear Lynne,

What is the solution for bitter tomato sauce? We did tons of fresh tomato spaghetti sauce for the freezer. It was so bitter. Sugar didn’t help. Longer cooking made it worse. Can we do anything when we serve it?  

–Zoe and Phil

Dear Zoe and Phil,

Oh, I feel for you two. There’s not a 100-percent-guaranteed cure, but use a little of the sauce to experiment with these emergency tactics.

Heat 1 cup of sauce with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (baking soda neutralizes acidity). Taste the sauce and add tiny amounts of baking soda to see if it mellows the acidity.

If there is still an edge, swirl in a teaspoon of butter, letting it melt until creamy. Usually this does the job.

If neither helps, toss the sauce.  Don’t subject yourself to a year of disappointing eating. Chalk it up to a learning experience. Next year taste for rich, sweet, tart fruit and don’t worry if they are plum style. For now, make good sauces with whole, canned tomatoes by Muir Glen, Red Gold or Hunt’s. They won’t let you down.  

I can offer some comfort with this easy pasta sauce. It freezes well. Don Giovanni was a village priest who loved his pasta.

-Lynne

Don Giovanni’s Tomato Sauce

Make 3-1/2 cups sauce for 1 pound pasta; 20 minutes prep time; 25 to 35 minutes stove time; keeps 4 days in the refrigerator and 8 months in the freezer

 Ingredients

  • 5 large cloves garlic, thin sliced
  • 12 large fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • A pinch hot red pepper flakes
  • 5  tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3-1/2 pounds mixed ripe delicious tomatoes, cored but not peeled or seeded or 2 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes, drained

Instructions

1. In a 4-quart saucepan combine garlic, basil, onion, salt, pepper and oil. Heat over medium-high 1 minute, no more. Add the tomatoes, breaking them as they go into the pan. Bring to a lively bubble, uncovered, and cook 30 minutes with a lid, or until thick and the sauce is reduced by half. Stir often, watching for sticking or scorching.

2. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and let stand 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Italian cooks pass the sauce through a food mill removing seeds and any skin. I prefer leaving it chunky.

Multiplying the Recipe: Use a wider pan or pans so the sauce thickens in about the same time as above. Don’t overcook.

[Disclosure: This recipe was created at a time when The Splendid Table had no business relationship with any canned tomato company. In July 2014, we were thrilled to welcome Muir Glen as an underwriter of our program.]

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