Introduction: Tomato and Beef Sauce Completely From Scratch
This is about as "from scratch" as you can make it without having to go out butcher your own meat. I've made this sauce several times now and I feel my methods are refined enough where I'm comfortable sharing it with the Instructable community.
I'm not really sure if this is considered a sauce or something else, but I put it on noodles, bread, heck, I could probably use it as a crazy combination pizza sauce/topping if I wanted to.
This makes at least 6-8 servings, depending on how hungry people are and their preferred sauce:noodle ratio. This recipe has no real measurements, just use what you think would taste good. As such, you can make much more than I did here in one go, you're really only limited to the size of your pot. Overall, this cost me roughly $15 (90% of which was the beef and tomatoes) and two hours of my time to make. Your mileage may vary, but it's well worth it.
Step 1: Mise En Place
Mise en place means, essentially, getting everything prepared before starting to cook. I highly recommend doing this. While this recipe is pretty lenient when it comes to cooking times, it's incredibly stressful having to furiously chop vegetables while things are bubbling away.
This recipe is also going to cover taking some steaks and grinding your own hamburger in a food processor. If this isn't something you're interested in doing, or you don't have a food processor, simply buy ground beef. Personally, I think it tastes awesome and I recommend trying it at least once.
As hardware is concerned, you will need the following:
Mortar and Pestle
For the food, you will need to procure the items below. The amount you use of each ingredient will really vary upon how much you like one flavor over another, but use this as a baseline and work from there.
Carrots - I used 3 carrots
Celery - I used 3 stalks of celery
Onions - I used 5 small- to medium-sized onions.
Tomatoes - I used 7 on-the-vine tomatoes, which are smaller
Green pepper - Just one
Garlic - I used 7 cloves, but I love me some garlic. Basically, take what you think might be "a lot" and then add one or two more.
Steaks - I got a chuck steak and a sirloin steak for a total of around 1.75lbs of meat. You can replace this with ground beef if you wish, or don't have a food processor.
Wine - A cup of low-quality white wine is really all you're looking for here. The subtle flavors of the wine really won't get transferred after being boiled away, but tomatoes release a lot of flavor in the presence of alcohol and it's more flavorful that just boiling off water.
Spices - I used a combination of thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, oregano, cumin, salt, and whole peppercorns. You can't really go wrong here, just use what you like.
I'm going to go over cutting all the vegetables. I'm sure it's basic to a lot of people out there, but when I started cooking I didn't know how to cut anything, I figured I can pass on what information I've learned.
Step 2: Prepare Celery
You can prepare these in any order. I prefer to do the beef last because then I don't have to wash my cutting board more than once.
To cut the celery you'll first need to cut each stalk into 3 long strips. Making the pieces smaller not only makes them cook faster, but it makes the sauce a lot less lumpy, which I personally like.
After that, cut into small pieces and set aside.
Step 3: Prepare Green Pepper
I'm not sure if this is the common way of doing it, but it seems to work well for me. The goal here is to cut out all the inside core and seeds while preserving the outside skin and flesh.
I cut a square out of the top and bottom, you could cut a circle, but really, who are we kidding here. A square is easier to cut and it gets the job done just fine. Next I push out the pepper core with my thumb.
I then cut the pepper into flat quarters and cut out the white bits. After that, I cut it into strips and chop them into small pieces. I put them in the same bowl I'm holding the celery in since I'm dumping them in at the same time.
Step 4: Preapare Carrots
This is pretty much exactly like the celery. Cut carrot in half, length-wise so you end up with two half-circles. Then divide it further into half or thirds, depending on how large the carrot is. Chop into pieces and set aside in their own bowl.
Step 5: Prepare Onions
Prepare whatever eye-burning mitigation that you usually use for cutting onions and get started. First thing I do is cut off the top and then slice down the middle. Do not remove the root on the bottom, you'll need that to keep the onion in one piece while you dice it up.
Remove the outer layer with the peel, the peel will stick to the root, but you can just tear it off. Next, cut the onion radially, but not all the way through. Leave about a half inch to an inch at the root. Having it still connected to that root will make things much easier while you dice it into small chunks. Simply throw out that bottom bit or, if your onions are very fresh, try to grow another one.
Dump the diced onions into another bowl and move on.
Step 6: Prepare Garlic
Peel your garlic. If you are making your own ground beef, loosely cut a few cloves and put them aside to be chopped up with the steaks. Otherwise, since I'm cooking the garlic at the same time as my onions, finely chop up the rest and put them in the bowl with the onions.
Step 7: Prepare Tomatoes (peeling)
Fill the medium saucepan with water and get it boiling.
The goal here is to get as much of the delicious flesh of the tomato while removing as much skin, seeds and pit as possible. I like to scoop out the top part with a melon baller; I take my knife and make a small cut so I can get the melon baller in without crushing the tomato, then I just scoop out. You can probably use a knife to cut out the top part too, but for some reason i find this method more fun.
After that, cut the skin on the bottom of the tomato in the shape of an X. Try not to cut too deep into the flesh, you're just loosening the skin.
Toss the tomatoes into the boiling water for roughly 30 to 45 seconds. You will notice the skin starting to peel back from the flesh, this is a good indication that they need to be removed with tongs. You're not trying to cook the tomatoes here, just loosen the skin.
Depending on your tolerance to heat, you can just slide the skin off right away.
Step 8: Prepare Tomatoes (seeding)
Another task for the melon baller. The seeds here don't really contribute much so I'm going to get rid of them. I just cut the tomato in half and scooped out as much as I could, including the white core of the tomato. This is a messy job, the outside of the tomato is partially dissolved from the boiling and will come apart in your hands. Be sure to save as much of the outer tomato as possible because there's a lot of flavor there.
Preparing the tomatoes is a time-consuming process, but I really think it's better than simply buying a can of them and working off that. That might be because you put the effort into making them the way they are. Take pride in the food you make!
Step 9: Prepare Ground Beef
If you purchased your own ground beef, you can pretty much just skip this step. But what's the fun of that? If you're making things from scratch, you should go as basic as possible.
This is a pretty straight-forward procedure. First, chop the steaks into half- or quarter-inch cubes. You can remove some of the fat if you want, but don't cut all of it out! That fat will be necessary to extract those delicious flavors from the onions and garlic while cooking.
I don't put more than a half-pound of steak into the food processor at a time, simply because I don't want to overload it. Since that means I'm going to be grinding four different batches, I have a loosely cut clove of garlic for each batch. Did I say I love garlic? I'm pretty sure I did.
Put the meat in the food processor and pulse it around 10 times. A good pulse for me is "on for a second, off for a second"... Just keep an eye on it, since you're not trying to liquefy your beef, just chop it up. Dump the beef onto a plate or a piece of parchment paper and continue with the rest.
Since you have two different steaks here, use your hands to mix it all up once you're done grinding. Aside from making sure that the two different steaks are integrated, this will also let you feel if there are large chunks of meat or fat that missed the processor. If you find any, you can either cut them up finer or just toss them in the trash.
Aside from it just tasting better, to me, I find making your own ground beef is safer as well. The tube of ground beef or hamburger you purchase in the grocery store is a mishmash of multiple different cows, which greatly increases your chance of cross-contamination. Granted, thorough cooking will get rid of this problem, but if you're making hamburgers on the grill, having a little pink in the middle is always a good thing in my book.
This method, by the way, does make incredible hamburgers. This method was taken and adapted from Alton Brown's episode of Good Eats: A Grind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.
Step 10: Cook Ground Beef
Finally! We're cooking something! This is really the home stretch, all the hard work has been done.
We want to brown the ground beef first for two reasons. First, it allows us to ensure that it's fully cooked and won't make us sick if we eat it. Second, it allows all the fat and liquid to render out of the beef, which we'll use to cook the onions.
Brown the beef over medium heat. In a few minutes it should eventually be happily bubbling along.
Step 11: Cook Onions
Now, since the beef is browned and released all that liquid, we are going to cook the onions in it. Get a slotted spoon and move the hamburger to a plate, leaving the juices behind. Don't get too crazy about removing every bit of meat, just enough so the onions have room to move around and cook.
Why bother doing this? Well I think the onions and garlic benefit from absorbing all this liquid rather than forcing it to share with the ground beef. This will also give more room to caramelize the garlic and onions, soften them up, and allow them to release their flavors. I bump up the heat to medium-high at this point to speed things along. When the onions turn translucent and all the liquid is gone from the bottom of the pan, dump the ground beef back in and give it a good stir.
Step 12: Cook Vegetables
At this point, turn the heat back down to medium to prevent things from burning and work on integrating the rest of the vegetables. I put the carrots in first and let them cook for a few minutes because from my experience they take longer to soften up. Considering the length of time this will simmer after everything is in there, I don't think it matters too much though.
After dumping in the carrots, celery, and green pepper. Let it cook for a few minutes just to make sure all those flavors are mixed well. If things start to stick and burn on the bottom of the pan, don't worry, that's what the next step is for.
Step 13: Deglaze With the Wine
Deglazing the pan with wine serves many purposes.
First, it will allow you to easily scrape off any bits that stuck themselves to the bottom of your pan.
Second, it will give all your ingredients' flavors another chance to intermingle since this will be simmering for quite some time.
Third, tomatoes have flavors that are really only released in the presence of alcohol. The wine will not only help the tomatoes fully dissolve, but it will allow them to push out a whole lot more flavor than if you just used water.
Step 14: Add Tomatoes
Dump your tomatoes in there and mix thoroughly.
I know it looks like a soupy mess right now, but once that wine works it's magic things will be different. At this point, I move the heat down to medium-low. Basically, I'm trying to get the heat as low as possible while still allowing the liquid to simmer. I partially cover the pot to make sure the steam can escape, but also that it escapes slowly. Stir it every few minutes to make sure it's not burning on the bottom..
Step 15: Wait
Yes, this is a difficult step. All you can do at this point is wait for the liquid to slowly simmer away and leave a thick sauce behind. This may take well over a half hour.
What to do in the meantime? How about some dishes! You've gotta be in the kitchen anyway to babysit the sauce, you might as well clean up after yourself. Your parents, significant other, or roommate (hopefully this person isn't all three) will thank you.
At this point I also made some noodles because I realized I didn't have any. Planning ahead is important.
Step 16: Add Spices
After I finished the dishes I decided to dump the spices in. I feel that if you put them in too early in the simmering process they just get overwhelmed by everything else, but if they are put in too late, they don't have time to integrate and their flavor takes over the entire dish.
I used a combination of thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, oregano, cumin, salt, and whole peppercorns. You can't really go wrong here, toss in what you like or what you think would be good. Just be sure to add salt. You don't have to add a bunch, maybe a tablespoon, but it will really tie all the flavors together.
Also, you don't have to grind your own spices, but it's the best way to get flavor out of them.
Stir it all in and resume simmering.
Step 17: Consume!
When all, or most, of the liquid is gone, you're done! Take it off the heat, spoon it up, and eat your fill, you definitely deserve it!
I have a feeling that this is pretty versatile stuff, but I haven't had any experiments with it yet. Obviously, it's great on noodles. I bet it would be amazing layered in a lasagna with some cheese. I'm planning to, at some point, make a pizza with this as the sauce AND the topping... we'll see how that turns out. I adding a little BBQ sauce turns this into really amazing sloppy joes.
If you have any applications or suggestions for refinement please don't hesitate to comment. I would love to hear how to improve or improvise on this further!