My mother made her own spaghetti sauce when I was growing up, and I always disliked it because it contained chunks of soft celery. Most of my food dislikes are based on texture, including my ban on mayonnaise and cottage cheese. The texture of soft, cooked celery is near the top of the list.
I was thinking about this recently as I confronted a bag of celery left in my refrigerator by a guest. What to do with it? I hate to waste food, but I couldn’t think of a lot of good options with celery because I rarely buy and use it.
I thought about making spaghetti sauce, but balked at the idea of soft celery chunks floating in it. Then I considered trying to purée the celery to get rid of the chunks, but I thought it might just get stringy and burn out my immersion blender.
I settled on adding the celery early in cooking and then removing it when I ran the tomatoes through a food mill. That way the sauce took on the celery flavor, but I didn’t have to worry about the texture.
I also added a lot of herbs because my mother likes herbs, and since the sauce was inspired by her, I wanted it to reflect her taste. Here’s my recipe:
Mom-inspired tomato sauce
13 pounds tomatoes
9 stalks celery, cut into 3-4 chunks each
Handful of fresh thyme springs
1 large onion, chopped
3 big garlic cloves, chopped
Handful of fresh marjoram
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash and core the tomatoes. Cut them in half and put them in a big pot. Toss in the chopped celery and sprigs of thyme.
Cook the tomatoes over medium-high heat until they and the celery are soft. This could take a while.
Run the tomatoes through a food mill, removing the celery chunks and sprigs of thyme.
Pour the sauce back into a big pan and add the garlic, onion, marjoram, basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Continue cooking over medium-high heat until the sauce has been reduced by at least one-third.
Purée the sauce using an immersion blender. You can freeze it or can it. If you can it, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint jar. Fill the jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Process in a rolling water bath for 35 minutes.