Last year I planted one itty, bitty oregano plant. You know, one of those little 2″ x 2″ cubes you get at the nursery with a little sprig coming out of the top.Then I planted some basil this spring. I also have my volunteer tomato plants. So… I have a pasta sauce garden!
Well, I was just a little disappointed with the oregano last year. It didn’t grow as fast as I thought it should, and by the time I was harvesting basil, peppers and tomatoes, the oregano didn’t look very promising. Even though it likes to dry out between waterings, I don’t think it was getting enough water.
It’s starting to get leggy and the buds are just about to bloom (some are blooming and the bees are loving it), so now is the time to harvest some of the oregano – both for dehydrating to use later in the winter and also to make some fresh pasta sauce.
For the pasta sauce, I set aside 2 tablespoons of the fresh oregano to make the sauce and processed the rest for my spice cupboard. Since I don’t use pesticides, I know my herb is perfectly safe. I also harvested some of my basil for the pasta sauce. Harvesting basil by cutting off the top three or four sets of leaves depending on how big the plant is, or in the case of oregano cutting the stems in half, is actually good for these herbs. If you keep loping off a little of the basil now and then, it will branch out, get bushier, and you will have loads more to harvest! Same with the oregano.
The remainder of the oregano was washed in cool water several times to make sure I got all of the dirt, spiders, etc. off. Once that was done, I stripped the leaves from the stems and spread them out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment so the oregano could dry. Make sure you don’t put it in the sun – that’s not good for herbs that you are dehydrating. If you want to use a dehydrator, follow the manufacturer’s directions. I prefer to dry mine the “no power” way because the oils and flavors in the herb are very delicate and heat sensitive – and why use power if you don’t need to! It only takes a day or so for the oregano leaves to dry. Once the leaves are leathery (almost crumbly) dry, they are done. Pack into an airtight container and, as with all herbs, it is preferable to keep out of light.
Alternatively, you could harvest your oregano, clean as above, then bunch together with a rubber band. This can then be hung in a warm, dry area to dehydrate right on the stem. Purists say this is the best way because all the oils follow gravity down the stem and into the leaves, which makes the most intense flavors in the herb. I don’t really know for sure. I have done it both ways and don’t really see a difference.
So – onward to my pasta sauce!
First comes the tomatoes. I had some regular old slicing type tomatoes and some grape tomatoes in my freezer and I bought a couple pounds of Roma tomatoes to make the sauce. Last year I discovered that the easiest way to peel tomatoes is to freeze them. You can see the entire instructions HERE. Once they begin to thaw, their skins start to break. Once thawed, all you have to do is tug on a peel and it comes right off! No boiling water to scald your fingers! If you click on the picture, you will see that some of the tomato skins are starting to crack.
Once the tomatoes were peeled and quartered, I placed them into a large pot and let them come to a boil. I didn’t bother making sure all the seeds were out. I don’t mind seeds. The tomatoes simmered for an hour or so, to cook down, get soft, and concentrate some of the juices. Then, I cheated – I poured the tomatoes into my blender to make a smooth tomato sauce.
The sauce was poured back into the pot and then I added 2 tablespoons of chopped basil, 1 tablespoon chopped oregano and 2 tablespoons of minced garlic. Those were the fresh ingredients. Since hubby and I like just a little bit of “kick” in our pasta sauces, I added about 1/2 teaspoon of the red chili pepper flakes that I dehydrated and ground up last year, plus a generous grind of black pepper.
While the pasta sauce was simmering again, with the fresh herbs, getting nice and thick, I browned some ground chicken in a skillet, then added it to the pasta sauce. I let the pasta sauce (all ingredients now in) happily bubble away on my stove top while I prepared the jars, lids, and pressure canner.
My pressure canner is a heavy one, and it isn’t recommended that I use it on top of my glass cook top range, simply because of the weight. Happily I have an outdoor kitchen. Unfortunately, we are in the process of re-doing the granite top of the outdoor kitchen. Luckily, dear hubby had a better idea, anyway. Our middle son gave us one of those outdoor turkey cookers several years ago for Christmas. Though we have used it a couple of times to cook turkey, and once to process a bunch of crab, I think we have found it’s best use yet: Canning! The pressure cooker fit perfectly into the stand – just like they were made for each other! I even realized that the large pot that came with the turkey cooker will double very well as a water bath canner! This is ideal because I won’t have to heat up my kitchen ever again! Wahoo!
Once the hot jars were filled with the hot pasta sauce to within one inch of the top of the jar, they were placed into the canner that already had hot water. Did you pick up on the term hot? Always remember, hot jars for hot food into hot canning water. Cold jars for cold foods into cold/warm canning water. If you don’t follow this rule you may just end up with a lot of cracked jars and a mess in the canner! 🙁
The pasta sauce was then processed (after venting and bringing up to 10 pounds of pressure) for 75 minutes for pints (90 for quarts). You must always process any low acid food in a pressure cooker – that means all vegetables and meats, and even some fruits!
After the 75 minutes were up, the gas was turned off and I let the jars just sit in the hot canner for about 5 hours, so they could cool down. If you don’t do this, you risk having bad seals or even cracking a jar. It’s even better to just let it sit overnight.
This is what I ended up with:
Now, when I want to serve spaghetti, I will pour the contents of the jar into a pot, heat it up to a simmer, and then add whatever I want – mushrooms, fresh tomatoes (to make it chunky) olives – or nothing at all! Then it can be poured over freshly cooked pasta. Sprinkle with a little Parmesan. Mmmmm…
Or this could be as the base sauce of a home made pizza. Yum! What is your favorite way to use pasta sauce?
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