Photos by Donna
Yesterday morning, walking the dog around the block in the soupy summer air, new neighbors I had scarcely met (transplants from Boston) beckoned from their porch. The conversation quickly came to tomatoes. “We’ve picked 40 pounds,” they said, almost pleadingly. I would be finishing my walk with some of their summer bounty. A reader emailed the other day asking me to post on the topic of what to do with the extraordinary abundance we experience in late August and early September. So it's time.
Tomatoes are so extraordinary now, I like to eat them simply, salted with some good olive oil, maybe some herbs, maybe some balsamic. When to salt tomatoes is a matter of taste, but I like to salt them about ½ hour before serving them, tossing them with some fresh thyme and a little olive oil. They drop some of their juices, which becomes part of their dressing, and it deepens their flavor. Of course, there’s always gazpacho (French laundry at home, Simply Recipes), and there’s no better bloody mary than one made with your own gazpacho (and a little Sriracha or jerk paste for some heat). Which is how we put the leftovers of the gazpacho (at right) to use the morning after a recent culinary binge.
But what to do with the abundance? Amanda Hesser addressed one possibility in yesterday's NYTimes Magazine, tomato jam—flavored with cinnamon and sweetened. An interesting recipe from 1948, when home cooks, she notes, were much better at preserving their food. But it calls for cherry tomatoes, peeled, which makes it something of a project. Canning/jarring them is likewise labor intensive.
What I love, though, is a simple rustic all purpose tomato sauce, frozen in deli cups, and used for up to a few months or even longer if they’re well wrapped. I almost always cook them chopped and with an onion, which adds sweetness to the acidic tomato. But other than that, it’s hard to go wrong whichever method you choose. Don’t worry about the seeds, don’t worry about the skin, it’s all going to get pureed in the end.
—Throw a bunch of coarsely chopped tomatoes in a pot, along with chopped onion and some olive oil and cook this over low heat all day long. The long slow cook really develops their flavor. For additional depth, throw some roasted beef bones in the pot. I like to puree this sauce in a blender or better yet, a Vita Mix, a really powerful mixer (I just got one of these—it’s a serious machine, about which I hope to write more later).
—Puree your tomatoes first, then cook them with diced onion.
—For a very finely textured soup, strain it through a chinois.
—Blacken your tomatoes beneath a broiler, really char them heavily, then puree them in a blender and cook with diced onion and a healthy chunk of butter, until it’s thickened and the water has cooked off.
—If you’re really pressed for time, saute chopped tomato and onion quickly, just to heat through and freeze it to make sauce later in the year.
—If you’re beyond pressed for time, put whole tomatoes in freezer bags and freeze for when you do have time.
Many people know how I make a stink about making your own stock or using water? Yes, tomato sauce is great on pasta, but think of it also as a great stock in which to braise just about anything, chicken legs, short ribs, pot roast, pork shoulder. Can’t have too much homemade tomato sauce, especially in the winter.