With this year's not-quite-so-hot summer, gardeners everywhere are seeing red. That is, finally, tomatoes are ripening on vines and the impending surge of them means that family kitchens everywhere must be prepared for preservation and preparation.
As a longtime fan and grower of tomatoes, Amanda Haar, from Hoosick Falls, N.Y., welcomes such problems. Her gardens are full of tomatoes, both pasters and cherry — she is ready for both.
"We grow a lot of pasters," Haar said. "When they're ready, we wash and chop them in quarters or halves, and boil them down and then run them through a food mill to separate the seeds and skins from the juicy, good stuff. We then reheat that to boil off the liquid. Sometimes we'll season with garlic, basil, etcetera, but usually just leave it naked."
Once that's cool, Haar continued, she pours it into freezer-friendly quart-sized bags, making sure to squeeze or suck out as much air as possible then lay on their sides in the freezer.
"All winter long we have frozen bricks of ready-to-go tomato sauce that still has its bright, summer flavor," she said.
Most of the resulting sauces she makes when thawing out bags in winter are spur-of-the-moment, which allows for creativity in the kitchen, as well as the convenience of quick preparation for small or large groups.
Convenience is not only on the mind of the home gardener, but also the professional.
Natasha Littrell of Bennington, Vt., former owner of Crazy Russian Girls Bakery and Café, started writing down a recipe for her pasta sauce made with fresh tomatoes within seconds of being asked.
"When I have a lot of tomatoes, this is my quick go-to sauce," Littrell said. "I love lots of brightly colored chunks of tomato and tons of basil. Again, it's quick. It only simmers for a few minutes. It should never come to a boil or the tomatoes will become darker and, I think, taste more bitter."
If the fresh tomatoes taste too acidic, Littrell advised, one can add a pinch of sugar to balance it.
"With all that bright color, it makes a great party dish tossed with penne or rigatoni, and topped with shredded parmesan and more fresh basil," Littrell said. "Also, leftover sauce freezes great or can be turned into an awesome soup by adding a bit of water and cream."
But the professional chef also preserves. Littrell said that when she picks out tomatoes at the farm stand, she "blanches them quickly, slip their skins off, chop them roughly, and freeze then in gallon-sized Ziplock bags, which is a very simple solution."
Still, when faced with a deluge of tomatoes as the growing season comes to harvest, Littrell said the most pleasing approach to tomatoes is a classic go-to.
"My all-time favorite thing to do with a really great tomato is make an old-fashioned country tomato sandwich," she said. "All it takes is white bread, mayo, thick slices of tomato, and salt and pepper. Then just bite down, and enjoy!"
— Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at email@example.com or on Twitter: @TellyHalkias
Wing-it All-Purpose Tomato Sauce
(Courtesy of Amanda Haar)
2-3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 4 four cloves of garlic, crushed
1 small to medium onion, diced
Fresh basil to taste, diced
Fresh or dried oregano to taste,
Crushed red pepper to taste
One quart bag of thawed sauce
(Optional: For a hearty tasting sauce, add a 1/4 cup red wine to pot when pouring in sauce).
Warm the olive oil on medium-low heat.
Add garlic and onion and cook until they begin to release flavors.
Stir in basil and oregano. Heat for 2 minutes.
Pour in sauce and cook on medium heat. After 10 minutes, taste sauce and adjust seasonings to taste.
Heat for another 5 minutes
Enjoy with anything that can use it!
Crazy Russian tomato concasse with prosciutto and artichoke hearts
(Courtesy Natasha Littrell)
2 medium onions, diced
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
Fresh basil, cut into ribbons
6 to 8 fresh tomatoes
1-2 slices of prosciutto, diced
2 small jars of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and diced
Slip skins off the fresh tomatoes by dipping in a saucepan of boiling water.
Remove the tomatoes after a few minutes.
Dip the tomatoes in a bowl of cold water. You should notice the skin starting to peel. You should be able to peel the skins off easily by hand. Dice the tomatoes and set aside.
In a large saucepan, sauté the onion, garlic, and prosciutto on medium heat until transparent.
Add the diced tomatoes, chopped artichoke hearts, and fresh basil to taste.
Add salt and black pepper to taste.
For a little heat, add a bit of red pepper flakes if you choose.
Serve over pasta with parmesan.
Blended family tomato ciabatta
(Courtesy of Nancy Tortorice)
Fresh ciabatta rolls, slice in half for sandwiches.
Spread fresh pesto on bread
Place thinly sliced, fresh tomato on rolls
Salt, pepper to taste.
Top with sliced mozzarella
Wrap in aluminum foil
Place in preheated 350 degree oven, 10 to 12 minutes or until cheese is melted.