From Apples To Zucchini
Autumn is arriving with the usual wild winds in tow, and suddenly summer is fading gently away. The light drains from the sky so early in the evening, and dawns are darker and later each day. Lots of people find the equinoctial loss of light enervating, but I have always loved fall’s crispness, the brisk breezes sweeping through the woods and fields. The leaves have barely begun to tumble, but maples are coloring up, their stored sugars burning brighter every week. In the garden, this weekend’s wind storm left the usual disarray behind. The deck was littered with green and half-ripe tomatoes, an event that calls out the canning jars.
After washing this humble harvest, I set any tomatoes that are ripe and intact into egg cartons. There, air can flow freely around them and they hold quality quite nicely. The nightly rains made many of the almost-ripe split open, so those go into the soup pot or become pasta sauce. The greenest ones get slow roasted, an alchemical process that brings out the best in most vegetables and some fruits as well. It takes time, however, and hasty roasting or undercooking will not produce the result you want. Low and slow makes magic, while too much heat can cause edibles to scorch before they caramelize, and too little time leaves them starchy and leaden.
A Matter Of Density
Slow roasting works best when you work with a single ingredient at a time, or carefully match densities. Thus, you’ll have better luck roasting a pan of green tomatoes by themselves, rather than mixed in with riper ones. You can mix firm veggies like cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or winter squash, especially when you take care to cut them into more-or-less equal sized pieces. If you want to add a handful of cranberries, gooseberries, or fresh currants to brighten the blend, wait until the main veg are close to done. Stir them a bit, add your softies, then give them another 10-15 minutes to meld.
Soggier things like peaches, plums, ripe tomatoes, and zucchini work best in larger pieces; halve the fruits and slice the squash into quarters lengthwise. These definitely need to be cooked in rimmed baking sheets to avoid slopping excess juices all over the oven. Rub the pan with a high temperature oil (I use avocado oil, which has a subtle, buttery flavor) and place them cut side up. Sprinkle with sea salt or raw sugar, depending on your intended use, and roast them at 300-350 degrees F for 40-60 minutes.
1 tablespoon avocado oil
4 ripe peaches, stoned and halved
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Gently rub peach halves with oil and place cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and paprika for the savory version or drizzle with maple syrup and coriander for the sweet one. Bake at 300 degrees F until soft and slightly caramelized (45-50 minutes). Serve warm. Serves 4-8.
2 firm 6-7 inch zucchini, sliced in quarters lengthwise
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 lemon, quartered
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Gently rub zucchini with oil and place on their sides on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with rosemary and salt and bake at 325 degrees F until slightly caramelized (40-45 minutes). Serve warm, with a lemon wedge. Serves 4.
Too Many Tomatoes?
Home grown tomatoes often ripen in a rush, leaving the cook with a pantry full of produce that won’t wait. If you don’t want to tie up your stovetop, slow roast them to brighten winter meals. You can freeze roasted tomatoes for up to three months, or longer if they’re prepared without seasonings that can develop off-flavors in the freezer (garlic is a major offender that way). Add your favorite flavorings when you thaw these luscious Reds instead, and the result will be rewarding indeed.
2 quarts medium red tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Rub each tomato, (skin side only) with oil, then place them cut-side-down in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees F until soft and edges are lightly caramelized (about an hour). Pack in jars as is and seal or puree first for a smoother sauce. Freeze for up to 3 months (use bags, boxes or straight-sided jars and leave an inch of head room). Makes about 4 cups.
Favorite Red Sauce
Thawed or just made, pureed Roasted Reds are luscious in Rich Red Sauce, which tastes like you spent hours making it but cooks up in minutes. Serve over pasta, quinoa, or rice and prepare to receive complements.
Spunky Red Sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 small carrot, coarsely grated
2 cups ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 cups pureed roasted tomatoes (thawed if frozen)
2 teaspoons capers, drained
In a sauce pan, heat oil, garlic, onion, salt and paprika over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add olives and cook for 2 minutes. Add celery and carrot and cook until barely tender (3-4 minutes). Add chopped tomatoes, bring to a simmer, add roasted tomato puree and capers, bring to a simmer and serve at once over pasta or rice. Serves 4. Some plate licking may be involved…