Capturing The Essence of Tomatoes

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Slow or fast, red or green, roasting captures those essential flavors

Saving Summer To Savor In Winter

After such a long summery stretch of dry heat, it’s startling how quickly autumn arrives. Though the days are still warm, the nights are already dipping into the 40s and since the air quality has improved enough to open the windows at night, it’s fun to snuggle under blankets again. This morning I sorted through my summer clothes and started bringing out the sweaters and even a woolly hat or two. In the garden, even as I pull out the last of the faltering elders, eager young starts are building quickly into productive plants. This year, we’ll be enjoying several kinds of cole cousins, including my favorite Purple Sprouting Broccoli and red Brussels sprouts, colorful kin that taste great and can really brighten up a salad or veggie plate. Of course there are lots of kales, from Dazzling Blue to Black Magic and Lacinato. The most heavily textured kales seem especially inhospitable to Cabbage White butterflies, especially the really frilly types, but the butterflies finally disappear in fall so we can enjoy the tenderest smooth types too.

As summer wanes, the late tomatoes are finally ripening and we’re eating the cherry types by the bowlful, knowing they’re the last of the sun ripened ones we’ll taste until next year. Though some plants are still going strong, those cold nights are already nipping the leaves of some of my tomato plants as well as the outdoor basil. Along with the big reds, I’m harvesting green tomatoes of all sizes as well as the semi-ripe ones from the saddest looking plants. All are heading to a glorious future as roasted remnants of that pure summer flavor. Once roasted, they go into 1-cup freezer containers to await their higher destiny. Some get initially frozen in a dedicated ice cube tray that has a heavy cover flap to keep out funky freezer flavors (the same tray I use for freezing pesto without garlic, as garlic doesn’t improve with freezing). Once solid, you can pop out the cubes and pack them into longer term containers, then add one or two to add depth and richness to winter soups, sauces, and stews and give off season salsas a livelier homemade quality.

Slow Down And Savor The Subtleties

I don’t can big batches of pasta sauces anymore, but any decent store bought sauce can be juiced up nicely with the addition of sauteed onions, peppers, etc. to boost the usually bland, rather heavy flavor. (For a big umami boost, add quartered Kalamata olives to the onions and peppers while sauteeing.) However, adding a few cubes or even a cup of thawed roasted peppers, whole or pureed, can transform a dull bottled sauce into a rich one that doesn’t tasting stale or stodgy. I don’t bother to remove seeds or skins when cooking tomatoes down for sauce or soup because they bring a lot of flavor to the party. If anyone objects to the textures, a quick buzz of a stick blender will take care of that. If tomatoes will be cooked, whether for canning or roasting, I just quarter tomatoes, removing the stem ends if the scar is tough, and pureed or not, the results are better than anything you can buy.

Roasting is definitely the simplest way to deal with a lot of tomatoes. When it’s still too summery to hang over a hot stove, roasting is the easiest way to deal with the bounty without getting heat stroke. You can mix reds and greens or roast them together, but while ripe ones can benefit from faster roasting at higher temperatures, green tomatoes taste far more delicious when roasted low and slow. The idea is to allow them to caramelize a bit without drying out or burning, so low temps are important. And here’s a hot tip: if you line the baking sheet with parchment paper, cleanup will be much easier(!).

Low-Slow Roasted Green Tomatoes

8 cups green tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon basil salt or kosher salt
1-2 teaspoons rosemary sprigs (optional)

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 and rosemary if using. Bake at 225 degrees F until soft and edges are lightly caramelized (2-4 hours or more, depending on size and ripeness). Pack in freezer containers as-is or puree first. Makes about 5-6 cups.

This entry was posted in preserving food, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Tomatoes, Vegan Recipes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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