When Life Gives You Tomatoes…
I love this time of year. In my area, everything from the garden is ready right now: cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, sweet corn, bell peppers, carrots, onions, potatoes, and of course, tomatoes. Don’t let the fact that you don’t have a garden get you down. I don’t have one, either. But there are still ways to take advantage of the abundance.
If you have a local farmers’ market, go there, and go frequently! If not, find roadside stands; offer to help friends and neighbors who do have gardens harvest and prepare their vegetables. If you have co-workers who bring extra vegetables in, take them up on the offer. Most gardeners I’ve ever known are generous people and will gladly give away food they cannot possibly eat simply because they can’t bear to see it go to waste. And once you taste the difference between home-grown and store-bought, you’ll begin to understand how they feel.
Of course, don’t over-do it: you don’t want to accept a gardener’s gracious gift and then let it rot because you didn’t know what to do with it. Case in point: tomatoes. If you find yourself with more tomatoes than you can handle via salsa, BLTs, or bruschetta, here are a couple easy ways to preserve them. No special equipment or techniques are involved. (What I mean to say is, “no canning”!)
Preheat your oven to 375. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil. Using ripe tomatoes, core them, then cut them in half horizontally. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the cookie sheet. Drizzle each tomato half with about 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt. (Optionally, add a pinch of dried or fresh basil to each.) Roast the tomatoes for about 45 minutes, checking frequently once they begin to seep juices. The amount of time needed will depend on how many tomatoes you are roasting.) Turn the pan if needed to roast the tomatoes evenly. When the halves start to sag and there is juice in the pan (some of which may carmelize — that’s fine), take the pan out and let the tomatoes cool completely. To store, layer tomatoes in a resealable plastic container, drizzling a bit more olive oil between layers. Freeze for up to 6 months. Thaw as many halves as you need and use them to add a summery, intense flavor to any tomato-based sauce, or in stew, chili, or pasta dishes.
Peasant Tomato Sauce
I call this “peasant” because it’s un-fussy: I don’t worry about removing all the seeds and skins. This won’t end up perfectly smooth like a canned tomato sauce, but the flavor is wonderful.
Using ripe tomatoes, core and partially skin them, removing areas that are heavily blemished. Cut tomatoes in half and squeeze out excess juice and seeds. Coarsely chop tomatoes and put into a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour pureed tomatoes into a large pan or dutch oven with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil per 2 cups of tomato puree. Add a teaspoon of salt, if desired. Simmer the sauce for at least an hour, until most of the excess water has boiled away and the sauce begins to thicken. Let cool completely. Once the sauce is cool, store it in resealable plastic containers (it’s a good idea to divide the sauce into the serving sizes you anticipate using) and freeze for up to 6 months.