As I sit here at my kitchen table, thinking of what food to discuss this week, I am enjoying the wonderful late summer smells wafting in my open windows. My husband is mowing the lawn (on his new riding mower…he is a happy guy!), a neighbor is grilling something yummy smelling for supper and I’ve got a basket of luscious looking produce- corn, tomatoes, peppers and melons- on the counter, ready to enjoy. In the blink of an eye, (and the flip of a calendar page) it seems we have made the transition from summer to fall. The kids are in back to school mode (whether it will be in person or online), the days are getting shorter, and fall vegetables are starting to appear in the produce aisles of the local markets. Late harvest corn, plump red tomatoes, giant, dark green bell peppers, crisp red apples…after a beautiful summer of grilling, I’m ready to pull out the crock pot and think comfort food!
This year, more than any in my memory, has given us the need for comfort…comfort food, hospitality and warm embraces! After spending many long months socially distanced, and with questions looming about when it all might be over, I am ready to do whatever it takes to return a little “normal” to our everyday lives, and as far as I am concerned that will begin in my kitchen. When life gets crazy, I get cooking! It soothes me, and makes lots of others happy in the process.
Of the many treats we can create with fall produce, one of my very favorites is homemade marinara sauce. It makes a great starting base for (of course) spaghetti and meatballs, but you can use that yummy sauce in a variety of other dishes, from lasagna and chicken parmesan to a base for soups and chili. What’s more, that stock pot (or crock pot) full of goodness will not just feed us for one day. It will make great lunches and dinners for the next week. Now is the time I get into high gear with my crock pot and my “cook once, eat twice” way of planning meals. A change in season doesn’t mean a let-down in our crazy schedules, so planning ahead really does make life easier.
Going back to that fall produce and my marinara sauce, I am thinking about canning a batch or two of it in the next few days. While the concept of home canning may seem old fashioned and time consuming to many, it is worth a second thought! With a few hours and the right supplies, the flavors of summer can last all winter long. The initial investment may be a little much, but remember, most of the supplies (namely the jars and rings) can be reused time and time again. A great resource for the supplies can be grandmothers and aunts, too! Many of the canning supplies I use are hand-me-downs from my Mom and my Nana!
In a few days, a bushel of fresh, ripe tomatoes, some garlic, fresh herbs and a couple of onions will sit on my counter…it will be picture perfect! In a few hours after that, that sight will be replaced by several quart jars of perpetual summer. In January, when the snow is coming down and the wind is whipping, I will open a jar or two, pour the contents into my crock pot and make a meal worthy of the mouth-watering oohs that will ensue, and remember fondly the warmth and happiness of today!
Homemade Marinara Sauce
2 T olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
8 garlic cloves, crushed
4 qts fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled and crushed
¼ c fresh basil, sliced very thin
1 t fresh thyme leaves (stems removed)
1 t fresh oregano leaves (stems removed)
1 t salt
½ t freshly ground pepper
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 T sugar
¼ t cinnamon
2 T white vinegar
Sauté onions and garlic on olive oil until onions are translucent and garlic is beginning to brown.
Mix all ingredients in a large stock pot. Simmer on low heat, covered loosely, for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally. May also be cooked on low in a large slow cooker.
Serve as desired. Store appropriately canned jars in a dark cupboard, or frozen in tightly sealed plastic containers.
*As with so many recipes, you can season this to your families’ tastes by adjusting the quantities of the salt, pepper, garlic and herbs. I try to be sure to make notes on my recipe of the changes I made so that I can repeat it in the future!
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