The Great Tomato Race

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Perfect for cooking, canning, freezing…

A Torrent Of Tomatoes

It was 48 degrees when I got up this morning, though the sun broke through the marine layer early, quickly warming the day up by 15 degrees. Even so, it’s clear that summer is waning fast and autumn is already making her moves. As usual, my island garden was just catching up with summer when she wandered off, and now my tomatoes and peppers and soup beans are valiantly trying to complete their tasks without much help from the fickle weather. In July, I wasn’t sure we’d get much of a tomato crop, since some failed to do much of anything in the cool weather that followed our heat bump in late June. However, the trusty grafted tomato plants kept chugging along, picking up speed in August and now racing towards the finish line. Grafted tomatoes are most definitely worth growing anywhere the climate is less than perfect, and in our notoriously unreliable island summers, they consistently out-produce non-grafted plants. They’re also resistant to late blight, which often wipes out the tomato crop just as it’s hitting its stride. Late blight can sometimes be averted and always minimized if you mulch susceptible plants with used coffee grounds, starting as soon as fruit is setting well. Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen, and using them too early can promote a lot of leaves and not much fruit.

One of the summer’s strongest performers is Matt’s Wild Cherry, a heritage-type tomato native to the Hidalgo area of Mexico. The airy, arching plants get as big as a hoop skirt and are loaded with berry-sized tomatoes that kids find enchanting to hunt for and pop blissfully into their mouths. Adults also find them delicious, but tend to grumble more about having to pick a dozen to get a decent mouthful. We happily pick handfuls of them for salads, where they explode in your mouth like intense little flavor bombs, and they also make a lively garnish for grilled vegetables or fish. Another new-to-me treasure is the Orange Paruche cherry tomato, an exceptional producer; even in this difficult year, it’s always heavily laden with plump little glowing golden-orange tomatoes that are especially sweet and flavorful. My grandkids strip the branches every time they visit yet there are always more coming on, and always totally delectable. I’m still smitten with the Midnight Snack cherry tomato, a black skinned beauty that blushes red on the bottom as it ripens. The flavor is too outstanding fresh to bother with cooking them, but we do tuck the few that don’t get eaten immediately into salads and sandwiches or put them, halved, on pizzas.

Red Or Green Or In Between

Most days now, we can pick a gallon of tomatoes, red or green or in between, and trying to keep up with the torrent can get challenging. The ripest can be dried or canned, but we also love them slow roasted. I do some batches of red and green separately and some mixed together, which gives the results a piquant, slightly tart flavor that’s pleasant in soups and sauces. Can your torrential tomatoes or freeze them in sturdy pint or quart containers to bring a bright taste of summer to winter meals.

It may seem like a bother to make your own red sauces, but store bought ones tend to taste heavy and dull, with a flat flavor profile. Homemade red sauces taste fresher, retaining a lively, nuanced flavor whether canned or frozen. I prefer robust, rustic sauces that include tomato skin and seeds, finding the flavor fuller and more complex than when only the pulp is used. I just core and quarter tomatoes, or just remove the stem ends on smaller ones, and I think the resulting sauces are better than anything store bought, skin or no skin. However, if you prefer a more refined sauce, just use an apple sauce maker or strainer to separate out the bits. Here are some basic ways to ready tomatoes for canning or freezing, though whether sauced or pureed or roasted, they all taste so good you may end up serving them in a fish stew or quick chili right away.

Quick And Savory Sauces

This well balanced sauce cans beautifully, and canning seems to preserve fresh, summery flavors better than long term freezing (especially anything involving garlic). Scale this sauce up for big batches, but try just a quart or two first to see how you like it, and keep notes about changes you prefer. Add any extra ingredients when you that/reheat it for an especially fresh and lively taste.

End Of Summer Canning Sauce

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
8 cups chopped ripe tomatoes with juices
2 cups pureed tomatoes
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons stemmed oregano

In a large saucepan, cook oil, onion, garlic, and salt over medium heat to the fragrance point (about a minute). Add chopped and pureed tomatoes, sugar, pepper, basil and oregano, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until sauce is as thick as you like it, then adjust salt, sugar and pepper to taste. Makes about 5 pints. Fill, seal, and process jars as usual, or follow this link if you haven’t canned tomato sauces before:

Ready Or Not, Here They Come

When September fills the kitchen with tomatoes and I’m feeling overwhelmed, roasting is the easiest way to deal with the bounty. It works best to roast ripe ones separately, and at a slightly higher temperature than the green ones, which develop the most luscious flavors when slow roasted for several hours. Don’t be afraid to let them cook for what seems like a ridiculously long time; just check on them every half hour or so, letting them caramelize but not burn (unlikely at such a low temperature).

Roasted Reds

2 quarts medium red tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt

Lightly rub each tomato, (skin side only) with oil, then place them cut-side-up in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 300 degrees F until soft and edges are lightly caramelized (1-2 or more hours, depending on size). Pack in freezer containers as-is or puree first for a smoother sauce. Makes about 4-5 cups.

Slow Roasted Green Tomatoes

2 quarts medium green tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Lightly rub each tomato, (skin side only) with oil, then place them cut-side-up in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 225 degrees F until soft and edges are lightly caramelized (3-4 hours or more, depending on size). Pack in freezer containers as-is or puree first for a smoother sauce. Makes about 6 cups.

A Hearty Red Sauce

This is my go-to sauce for unexpected company meals (which are sadly very rare these days). It’s one of the richest flavored sauces I make, and it’s always a crowd pleaser. The base of pureed Roasted Reds combines with chopped Kalamata olives give this sauce a deep, intense flavor, as if you spent hours making it, though it cooks up in minutes. Serve over pasta, quinoa, or rice or use it as a splendid pizza sauce.

Robust Rustic Red Sauce

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
1/8 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives (or any)
2 cups ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 cups pureed Roasted Reds (thawed if frozen)
1/4 cup coarsely grated Asiago or Romano cheese

In a sauce pan, heat oil, garlic, onion, and oregano over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, add celery and olives and cook until barely tender (3-4 minutes). Add chopped tomatoes and pepper, bring to a simmer, add pureed tomatoes, bring back to a simmer, adjust seasonings and serve at once over pasta or rice, etc., garnished with cheese. Serves 4.

Quick Green Tomato Sauce

This speedy, tasty sauce is lighter than red sauces and is a great match with grilled autumn greens (think radicchio) and grilled salmon. If you don’t have any zucchini (what?), substitute green beans, thinly sliced on the diagonal. Capers bring body and depth to this quick sauce, or a tiny bit of anchovy paste works well too.

Fresh Pasta With Green Tomato Sauce

8 ounces fresh fettucini or noodles
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 leeks, thinly sliced (white and palest green parts only)
OR 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
2 cups diced (1/4 inch) green tomatoes (with juices)
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons capers, drained
1/4 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt (optional)
1/4 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup halved ripe cherry tomatoes

Combine oil, garlic, and fennel seed in a wide, shallow pan over medium heat and cook to the fragrance point (about one minute). Add leeks or onion and cook until just tender (5-6 minutes). Add basil and diced green tomatoes, cover pan and bring to a simmer, then stir in zucchini and capers, adding salt as (or if) needed. Cover pan and let simmer on low while you cook pasta as directed. Drain pasta and serve with the sauce, garnished with goat cheese and cherry tomatoes. Serves 4.

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3 Responses to The Great Tomato Race

  1. Tonya Hamman says:

    I grew midnight snack for the first time this year and as they were sitting there unripe all black- passersby could not resist picking them I might have to pass next year! I like the mystery of the green tomato- especially Aunt Ruby German Green Tomato! I did very well on Franchi Red Pear Tomato- so delicious! Sweet Apertif is small but oh so sweet! And the sauce tomatoes did very well!

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Oh Tonya, that would make me cross indeed! Yes, until they turn red on the bottom, the Midnight Snacks are not very tasty but once they do, wow! I love the little red star that’s revealed when you pull the stem off, too.

  2. Linda Cooley says:

    Dear Ms. Lovejoy,
    Thank you for the many, many years of generously sharing your gardening and cooking expertise. I garden and cook in North Kitsap and find your suggestions so valuable! I am roasting a variety of red tomatoes as I write. This week’s recipes are making this bountiful harvest very manageable. Many thanks!

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