Monday, September 21, 2009

The Terror of Tomatoes: So Much of a Good Thing

It's fortunate that we choose not to remember unpleasant things and that we compartmentalize memories. Otherwise, we might never order so many garden seeds. We'd look at those lovely pictures and think, "Oh, no - the harvest!!".

Now is the season of desperate processing. Even with the depredations of a late-season tomato late blight infection, the tomatoes have advanced from one kitchen counter, to a second, to a table in the basement. I've pulled out the last of the vines but I'll have tomatoes ripening and asking to be processed for another week or two.

I grew three varieties this year. My old reliable for fresh eating and casual cooking is Carmello, which I've been buying from Renée's Garden. It is a tender-skinned variety bred for flavor that grows medium-sized red round tomatoes. This gets made into tabbouleh, gazpacho, fresh salsa, broiled tomatoes, and of course eaten as luxurious big fat red tomato slices.

I've usually grown an Italian plum-type tomato too, and lately it has been Pompeii, also from Reneé's Garden. They produced very well this year and made large long fruits.

This year I added Amish Paste from Cook's Garden. These are described as "acorn-shaped" and that works pretty well. They are supposed to be meaty and good for sauces. Some of these fruits were huge.

I can't compare flavor for these last two, because I combined them. I usually think of plum-type tomatoes as "paste" tomatoes. So I just quartered them and cooked them together in a couple of slow cookers, a.k.a. crock pots. I cover the pot until the tomatoes juice up and begin to cook, then remove the cover and let them cook down all day. Then I run them through a food mill to remove skins and seeds, and the result is a moderately thick purée which I freeze in jars.

What I do with the Carmello when it exceeds fresh eating requirements? I skin them (by placing briefly in a pan of boiling water and then pulling the skins off) cut them up, and cook them down. This goes into various dishes for freezing, like cabbage rolls and a huge batch of spaghetti sauce. But I also make a simple basil-tomato sauce for freezing. It can be used as is or as the base of other sauces and it is a good way to use the basil I grow every year.

Basil Tomato Sauce

For each large pot (about 6 quarts) of cooked tomatoes, cut up 1 medium onion and 6 garlic cloves. Cook them in about 1/4 cup of olive oil until translucent (don't let the garlic brown) and add the tomatoes and a plentiful quantity of fresh torn (not chopped) basil leaves. Simmer with stirring until thickened, 1-2 hours. Add ground black pepper and salt to taste (I often omit salt since tomatoes are fairly salty in themselves).

I've often used this from the freezer to make a more complex meaty spaghetti sauce. It can also be used to make a sauce with roasted red peppers.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

For each quart of Basil Tomato Sauce, roast and peel 1 ripe red bell pepper (or more). Put the pepper and the sauce into a blender and purée till smooth. Season with black pepper and 1/4 t each salt and sugar (or to taste).

I serve this with Eggplant Parmigiana. Both the prepared eggplant and the sauce freeze nicely for midwinter meals.

The Basil Tomato Sauce is just fine as is for dishes like traditional lasagna.