I grill a lot of vegetables, from asparagus to tomatillos, but I probably spend the most time grilling tomatoes. Not only are they delicious on a skewer with other vegetables for dinner, but they’re also fabulous when pulled off the canning shelf or from the freezer. And the process for grilling large tomatoes is easy: slice them in half, sear them cut side down on a hot grill for a couple of minutes, and then flip and cook a few more minutes until soft.
Those of us with large gardens quickly come up with enough grilled tomato batches for canner loads of salsa, Bloody Mary mix, and pasta sauce. But in recent years, I’ve been running a small batch to freeze in cubes—the perfect size to drop into a soup, spread on a pizza crust, or simply dip into with mozzarella-stuffed breadsticks.
Grilled Tomato Pizza Sauce
3-1/2 ounces grilled onion (about 1/2 cup when chopped)
1–2 cloves Roasted Garlic
1-1/2 teaspoons honey
zest of 1 large lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
up to 1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and/or nutmeg
3 tablespoons fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, thyme, and/or parsley
If using an immersion blender, put the grilled tomatoes in a medium saucepan; otherwise, put them in a large food processor. Coarsely chop the onion and garlic and add them to the tomatoes, along with the honey, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and ground spices. Puree with the immersion blender or food processor until quite smooth and free of large chunks.
In the medium saucepan, heat the sauce over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, until it begins to bubble. If too thin, continue cooking the sauce until it thickens to your liking. Mince the fresh herbs, stir them into the sauce, and then remove the sauce from the heat. Serve immediately (see below), or let cool to room temperature and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 3–4 days. For long-term storage, spoon the room-temperature sauce into 2 ice cube trays and freeze until solid. Transfer the cubes to a zip-close freezer bag, label the bag, and place it in the freezer. Makes about 3 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- This small-batch recipe is a simplified version of the pasta sauce I can every year. Here, the lemon zest is for flavor; for water-bath processing, additional acid is needed to ensure it is food safe.
- If you don’t have a food processor or an immersion blender, I recommend getting the latter; it’s an incredibly handy tool in even the smallest kitchen. You could use a potato masher or dice all of the ingredients, but a smooth sauce will be more versatile.
- I love the intense flavor of grilled and roasted vegetables in this sauce, but you could easily go with fresh tomatoes, onion, and garlic. To keep the fresh flavor of the sauce, chop the tomatoes first and drain off as much juice as possible before adding them to the saucepan; even then, you’ll likely need to cook the sauce longer to thicken it up.
- This sauce is the perfect topping for Sourdough Pizza Dough; I usually use 2–3 cubes on a 12-inch crust. You can also serve it with Marinated and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms. Or use it as a dipping sauce for Stuffed and Grilled Breadsticks.
Twice as Tasty
In one of my recent grilled sourdough pizza workshops, I offered the participants three bases for their pies: Basil Pesto Base, Spring Pesto with Pea Shoots, and Grilled Tomato Pizza Sauce. They loved all of the options but were particularly impressed that pizza sauce could taste so good.
So I thought, what if I drop the rest of the cast and reverse the roles of dough and sauce, making the sauce the star? With a log of fresh, homemade mozzarella in the fridge, I decided to let cheese play a supporting role. The thick, herb-laden tomato sauce grabbed the grilled breadsticks nicely, and a few tricks kept the cheese mostly in place. But the grilled dough almost stole the show, with an egg wash brightening the dough and boosting the toasted flavor.
Stuffed and Grilled Breadsticks
3 ounces Quick Homemade Mozzarella or store-mozzarella, cubed
1 egg white
splash of water
1 cup Grilled Tomato Pizza Sauce
Take the ball of dough from the fridge. Flour your rolling space and rolling pin, and then use the rolling pin to shape the dough into an approximately 10- by 15-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangle into quarters, and then cut each quarter across its width into 3 strips about 2-1/2 inches wide and 5 inches long.
Cut the cheese matchstick style into 12 pieces, ensuring the cheese pieces are shorter than the dough pieces. Lay a cheese stick on a piece of dough and wrap it like a burrito: fold the long edge of the dough over the cheese, fold in the short ends, and then roll the rest of the dough around the cheese. Pinch the exposed edge to the layer of dough beneath it, sealing in the cheese. Cover with a light towel and let rest at room temperature for about 1 hour, until the dough puffs up slightly.
Fire up the grill, bringing the heat to at least 450°F. In a small bowl, beat the egg white and a splash of water with a fork. Brush the egg wash over each breadstick, flipping the stick to brush all sides and transferring the sticks in a single layer to a plate or pizza peel. Use a brush or paper towel to carefully oil the hot grill, and then lay the bread sticks across the grate, giving them space on all sides. Immediately close the lid and cook for about 2 minutes, until the dough puffs and begins to brown. Flip the breadsticks and grill another 30–60 seconds, until browned on the opposite side but before the cheese oozes out. Serve immediately with warm sauce. Makes 12 breadsticks.
Tips & Tricks
- Chilled dough is easier to roll, but warm dough rises better. Take advantage of both phases by pulling the dough straight from the fridge for rolling but then letting it rest and rise in stick form.
- Homemade mozzarella gives these breadsticks a light yet flavorful center, but store-bought variants or even other cheeses will work. Be sure to pinch the dough edges hard enough to encase the cheese but not so hard that your fingers produce new holes.
- Without the egg wash, the dough tends to remain floury and pale in the places it didn’t rest directly on the grate, whereas the egg-brushed dough cooks more evenly and golden.
- For a cheese-free version, roll the dough pieces into long snakes, fold each snake in half, and then twist the two ribbons around each other candy cane style, starting from the folded end; let rise. Vegans can brush the bread twists lightly with oil. Grill like the filled breadsticks.
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