Thursday, November 5, 2009

So Long Tomatoes, See You Next Year

Even now, as I look out the window and watch the colorful fall leaves swirl in the wind and the barely-there spittle of rain stipple the sidewalk, I can't believe it's over. Tomato season, that is. Summer? I can take it or leave it. (Probably because here in Napa Valley, Autumn is the coveted season. Gorgeous temperate days; cozy sweater-wearing, fireside-lounging nights; harvest, color, evening's slanted golden light .... mmm. I'll take Fall any day.) But what I will miss - perhaps more than stone fruit, plump berries or 100-degree temperatures - are fresh tomatoes.

I'm not discriminatory - I love tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and varieties. The uglier the heirloom, the quicker it winds up in my market basket. So as I find myself straddling the divide between tomato glut and tomato drought, I've shored up the pantry for the winter ahead. Sauce, salsa, soup... I've got a few goodies stashed away that capture that summer-fresh ripeness. But my favorite preservation method, hands-down, is slow roasting them in the oven.

Slow, oven-dried tomatoes have an amazing concentrated flavor that I find irresistible. It's a method that works really well with Roma tomatoes; they're the right size and sturdiness, and they pack a wallop of intense flavor when perfectly ripe. Lucky for me, Randall brought home a bounty of the red beauties from the last day of this season's Napa Farmer's Market.

There's not much to it. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet, dribble them with some good olive oil and a sprinkling of Kosher salt, and put them in a 200-degree oven for a nice long, warm nap. I let mine roast for about four hours - maybe longer, depending on the size of the tomatoes. I roast them until they are just this side of completely dried; I like them to still be a little plump. Once removed from the low heat, I just let them cool before loading them into canning jars and covering them with a layer of good olive oil. I don't even bother heat-sealing the jars (at least this time around, since I only wound up with four small jars) - I've just stored them in the fridge, and it will be all I can do to not eat my entire stash before month's end.

The oven-dried tomatoes are an amazing addition to salads, awesome when tossed with pasta, or a great base for tapenades or spreads. I use them just as I would use sundried tomatoes - the possibilities are endless. So I'm set for a little bit - I don't have to let the delight of vine-ripened tomatoes go just yet.

And speaking of vine-ripened tomatoes, I wasn't the only one enjoying the summer's finest. My mom's garden back home in Salt Lake apparently was overflowing this year (see all the pictures she sent me below); she's still harvesting the last of her tomatoes and has been stockpiling them as well. Here's her method for making tomato puree that is the base for her off-the-charts good tomato soup; she freezes the puree in quart-sized Ziplock bags (thanks mom, for the great instructions!).

Tomato Puree and Tomato Soup
Contributed by Judy Angell

This base freezes well, up to a year, and when I need a fresh tasting marinara, soup, juice, or anything else using tomatoes, I pull out one or two bags depending on how much I need. It always tastes like it just came from the garden.
  • Gather and wash tomatoes.
  • Put in 8-quart pot with lid on to slowly cook over medium to medium-low heat (add about 1 cup of water so the bottom tomatoes don't burn)
  • Clean the garlic shallots; chop and put in pot with tomatoes (My mom grows garlic shallots in her garden, pictured below; regular shallots will work as well. Add to taste.)
  • Cool when all is cooked
  • Ladle cooked mixture into blender; puree
  • Pour puree through a small wired strainer into another eight quart pot to catch seeds and small pieces of tomato skin
To make tomato soup, here's where you can go wild and crazy:
  • Start with a base of the tomato puree
  • Add to it what you like: noodles, rice, meats, variety of vegetables (celery and onions chopped fine are my favorites)
  • Simmer 20 minutes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • For an extra zing, add one to two tablespoons of sugar (this is the real secret that gives the soup just a little extra uniqueness)
  • Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and cheese crackers

1 comment:

  1. Morry, I've been meaning to say from the last few posts, your photography is getting to be amazing. It was always good before, but I can tell a difference since your photo class. Thumbs up!