Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The best laid plans....otherwise known as Tomato Craziness

This year I had plans, big plans. I was going to grow an entire year's worth of tomatoes and maybe more. I has plans to can, freeze and dry them and make all kinds of other tomato goodness out of them. I did it last year. Why not this year? But then came the summer and the rain and the severe lack of heat. And then the blight. All my happy planning, planting and tending grew luscious lively green plants and three ripe tomatoes. Pathetic.

For awhile I moped around feeling very sorry for my tomato loving self. But then I pulled myself together and started making trips to the farmer's market and buying organic tomatoes by the lug. AFter a couple of weeks I had processed 125 pounds of these red beauties. Right after the Weston-Price buying club I recently joined had a tomato buy. A dollar a pound for 2# (cosmetically challenged) organic tomatoes. How could I beat that? So I bought another 40 pounds. And then, I got an order I had placed a long time before from our organic fruit guy and brought home another 40 pounds of the best non-homegrown cooking tomatoes I have ever tasted. Okay. I admit I got carried away...but honestly we will eat them and be glad. Already we have had two homemade pizza nights. And there will be more to come I am sure.

I bet you are wondering what I did those 200+ pounds. It went quicker than you think.

First, I washed and ground the original 100 pounds in my cuisinart. I put the ground tomatoes in quart ziplock bags and froze them as is for cooking. It takes less than an hour to wash and process 25 pounds. Pretty darn quick.

Next I dried the remaining 25 pounds of farmer's market tomatoes using my tomato chip recipe which is detailed in the Fifteen Minutes of Heaven post if you scroll down here
It takes me less than an hour to prepare 25 pounds for the dryer and a few minutes here and there to check on them.

After that, I started getting creative. With 10 pounds of the buying club tomatoes I made a tomato paste from a recipe shared by somebody in the club. I guess the recipe was originally created by Bruce Naftaly of Le Gourmand in Seattle. It is simple and delicious...thank you Elisabeth for sharing and Bruce for creating..

Tomato Paste

2 lbs paste tomatoes
1/2 c or more red wine

start with 1/2 c of red wine. add tomatoes and cover. bring to a boil.
once boiling, uncover, and reduce heat to simmer. simmer about 60 min.
put through food mill. should yield about 1 c of paste.

It took me a little longer to cook it down but I started with regular tomatoes and not the paste tomatoes. I suspect it took twice as long to cook. I also added a titch of himalayan salt.

While that was cooking I sliced up the remaining 30 pounds and half dried them. This was a recipe from another friend that I tried last year and loved. It is simple to do and makes cooked tomato sauces divine...somehow the double drying and freezing technique makes the flavors extra rich. It took me a little over an hour to do 30 pounds.

Half-dried Tomatoes

Slice tomatoes in four even slices and fill the dehydrator. Let them dry about half time so they are smaller but still are fleshy. I would tell you how long but each dehydrator is different. Then carefully move the half dried slices to cookies sheets to freeze solid and then put them in ziplock bags in the freezer. This extra step ensures you can just grab a few when it is time to cook. Use liberally when cooking with tomatoes. (Can't get much easier than that!)

And finally, today I got even more adventurous by making the last 40 pounds of tomatoes into the roasted tomato sauce recipe from my new friend Heidi P. Of all the tomato recipes I made, these smell the best. Again, this is a super easy recipe that just takes time and patience.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Cover the bottom of a pyrex or other thick baking pan with paste tomatoes that have been sliced in half the long way. Make a thick pile, about as much as the pan can hold.

Drizzle olive oil and himalayan salt over the top and then sprinkle with fresh herbs (I used basil, oregano and thyme).

Add liberal amounts of fresh garlic cloves.

Bake at 220 degrees until all the extra water is gone. Stir occasionally and keep cooking on a low heat until the tomatoes are the consistency that you like. You can cool and then freeze in useful amounts or can if you like. If you can remember you will need to add citric acid to acidify for safety. With the herbs and garlic and oil, I figure I would rather be safe than sorry so I froze it.

I am sure there are many other delicious ways to preserve tomatoes for winter. What's your favorite way?

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