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.

Food mills are the choice of chefs who want to keep the seeds and the skin out, and my friend JD swears by the Italian tomato press, which does the same thing.  Both result in excellent texture.

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.


59 Wonderful responses to “Tomatoes and Tomatoes and Tomatoes: Sauce”

  • thehungryengineer

    I **love** my Vitamix. I’ve had it for just a few months (after fretting for several weeks trying to rationalize the $$), and it works like a dream.

    I made a soup base by roasting tomatoes, sweet onions, and garlic in the oven till lightly charred, and then pureeing in the Vitamix. That base can be flavored any number of ways, or as you suggest, reduced even further. Fantastically simple and very delicious.

  • Dana McCauley

    Forty pounds?!? How many plants must they have?

    I make pizza sauce this time every year and freeze it in 1 cup containers so that I can easily thaw just enough to make two or three pizzas all year long.

  • Pookha

    It’s a happy time of year when you finally have enough tomatoes. Here in the South, we’ve had them for some time. I used to do gargantuan canning sessions. But at this time in my life I just do a jar or two every so often. And, of course, tomato sauce. A neighbor puts up lots of salsa.

    There’s an obscure little song, “You Can’t Buy Love, or Homegrown Tomatoes”. I agree.

  • Lux

    We go even simpler, roasting cut tomatoes dressed with a touch of olive oil in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, then pureeing and freezing the result in 2-cup batches. No onion.

    It’s a great base for a lot of things — but only if you make it with fresh, flavorful tomatoes.

  • brandon_w

    We don’t have an abundance (no garden) but the ones from the Farmer’s Market have been delicious. A lot of tomato and toast sandwiches. Or if we are stepping it up caprese (did I salad pannini’s. So fresh and good.

  • Badger

    I’ve been going the roasted tomato route this summer, too, after a foodie friend turned me on to this method: Lots of (ideally mixed) tomatoes, cut in wedges or large chunks, along with several whole garlic cloves and some chunked-up eggplant, when I have it. LOTS of olive oil, some salt & pepper, maybe a little balsamic vinegar, fresh basil, oregano, thyme, whatever. Two hours at 300 degrees F, stirring every 30 minutes or so. I like to scoop it up as-is with hunks of bread, but I’ve also been known to toss it into pasta and puree it for pizzas.

  • Dana

    Compliments to Donna on yet again a stunning photograph….. awesome artistry.

  • milo

    I’m curious what varieties people are enjoying this summer. We have a bunch, the standouts have been Green Zebra (not very prolific this year, but great subtle and unique flavor) and Lemon Boy.

  • Cali

    I got a very late start with my tomatoes this year because I killed all my first seedlings when we had some really hot weather early in the season. So far I’ve had exactly one ripe tomato in my garden. A single, perfect black cherry. More will be coming soon. I hope.

    As to this year’s varieties they are: Mr. Stripey, Black Krim, Black Cherry, Carbon, Black from Tula and Mortgage Lifter. Yes, I got a little crazy on the blacks and I will make sure to plant some sure-fire producers like Early Girl and Celebrity next year. As it stands I have about a dozen cherries ripening and three or four others, mostly on Mr. Stripey.

    Never this late or this “elite” mix again because it’s awful to spend so much putting in a garden only to have to buy homegrown heirloom tomatoes @ $3 per pound from growers.

  • Phil

    This was a rare year for tomatoes for us. Normally, I have great success with my plants, but for some reason this year things just didn’t work out. We had blooms galore, but maybe 1 in 4 actually became fruit. I thought it was me, but many of my neighbors experienced the same thing.

    Still, I enjoyed buckets of tomatoes, just not as much as I have in years past.

  • Camille

    I love the charred tomato idea! It doesn’t get much better than an intesely flavored, roast tomato. Which is why I’m making tomato tarte tatin for dinner tonight. 🙂

  • milo

    Phil, it could be a pollination issue. Over the last couple years, there have been some drastic drops in bee populations. I’ve had a similar problem with my zucchini over the last two years, lots of flowers but practically no fruit.

  • Andrew Martin

    Like others, I’ve been using the roasting method with great success: cut into large chunks, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 350 for a couple of hours (I like to crank up the heat to 450 for an additional 30 minutes to get a bit of carmilization). Passed through a food mill and cooked down a bit with some pancetta and roasted garlic, it is great with pasta or on pizza.

  • Sean Kelly

    Next time anyone anywhere cracks on the great city of Cleveland (I’m talking to you, Spinal Tap!), remind them that tomatoes grow really really well in Ohio summers (and the winter is cold enough to keep people strong!)

    I live in Seattle- tomatoes are marginal here. The temps are mid 60s right now, in the 40s at night.

    Also, Vitamix is based in suburban Cleveland. My mom works there! And, yeah, Vitamix is awesome- it is the Lamborghini of food processors.

  • Jill

    I have an old tomato press like that (but without the smart fitted companion bowl — you can’t image how many times I’ve dumped hot contents from ill-suited and poorly balanced bowls while absent-mindedly cranking the handle). It’s also great for making applesauce as it spits the peel and seeds out of your way.

  • EY

    Don’t know if it’s lack of bees, planting too shallow or my lack of gardening skills, but our Mr. Stripey produced 2 fruits, both of which rotted when they were still green. Fortunately, we have a Locally Grown organization where I can get wonderful tomatoes. I just never get enough for us to do anything other than slice and eat them.

  • Tags

    Your neighbors are lucky. A large portion of my tomato crop is ruined by squirrels that take one bite, then move on to the next one.

    Still, I manage to get some pristine tomatoes, so it’s not all bad.

  • Charlotte

    I’ve had a great year for tomatoes — not great for much of anything else (the mystery broccoli plants are 3 feet tall with no heads). The early varieties: Sasha’s Altai and Prairie Fire are just about spent — Sasha’s Altai is particularly delicious. Like a small beefsteak. The Galina cherries are coming in (yellow) as are the Jaunne Flamme which are marvelous this year. I’m still waiting on the Marglobes, the Black Cherries and the Milano Plums and Principe Borghese romas. I built a new privacy fence on the south side of my yard this spring, then put in 2 big raised beds in front of it. It’s been a fabulous microclimate for tomatoes. I see some serious passata in my future.

  • Sharon

    I’m in the deep south in Texas and my tomatoes gave up their last bounty a month ago so I was happy to find GREEN TOMATOES at the farmer’s market this weekend and tonight I’m going to fry them up. I too love them w/ oil and salt still warm from the garden. YUM!

  • Messy

    In Michigan, the tomatoes came in like gangbusters this year. Some of the growers at the Evanston Farmer’s Market say that it’s been the best year they’ve had for a long time.

    As a result, we’ve been eating all kinds of cherry tomatoes by the handful – they’re as good as strawberries as far as I’m concerned. I’ve also been making a lot of bread salads. If there’s a way to put tomatoes into something I’ve been doing it.

    I just took a look at the Vitamix and I don’t thing we’ll be going there in a hurry. We have an Oster blender from the 1930s that we got at an antique market about 20 years ago. It has three settings, slow, fast and off. The motor is wound copper and I think it could puree a cinder block, so we’re good for the moment.

  • carri

    Here is another option for anyone who has an abundance of tomatoes…send them to ME! I’ll send back a nice box of fish!

  • beaniegrrl

    You know what I love about freezing tomatoes? If you thaw them for about 5 minutes in warm water, the skins just slide off and you can just pop them in the pot or the blender.

    And I agree with Sean Kelly. Growing tomatoes in Cleveland is heavenly. Nothing like harvesting fresh bright red happiness in November.

  • mom

    FANTASTIC MOUTH WATERING PHOTO! Congratulations Donna!
    Tomatoes in Florica can never compete with those in the mid-west or north-east so enjoy!
    Thanks for the ideas!

  • Natalie Sztern

    I dunno bout them thar tomatoes but those M & M’s look mighty good to me right now…Bob del Grosso had a great and easy tomatoe sauce recipe on his blog not too long ago and I do remember once making a roasted tomatoe sauce which was not only tasty but really easy; I freeze tomatoe sauce in baggies in the freezer so I have enought for one and more if needed….and girls for all those extra tomatoes you cannot get rid of make a facial masque using mashed tomatoes and some yogurt if you have….it revitalizes the pigmentation and evens out the color…but try to strain the seeds first.

  • Nicole

    My grandmother has been canning her tomatoes for ages, and they also make great soup and stew bases. It’s forever ruined my ability to by canned tomatoes at the store.

  • YOD

    What a way to meet the new neighbors!

    I’m looking for a way to oven dry tomatoes, so that I can freeze them for winter use. Any good ideas out there? I tried one on-line recipe over the weekend, and they ended up ruined. I was devastated–I lost not only the tomatoes, bu also some of my best olive oil and balsamic.

  • Beau

    I have a small amount of heirloom cherry and other heirloom tomatoes in my garden… my aunt, on the other hand, has five tomato plants taking over her backyard like of kudzu in the south (from which I have taken many tomatoes).

    Besides making tomato and corn salad, gazpacho, etc, I have oven dried them (convection oven) and then stored them in jars with olive oil, garlic, and some herbs.

  • NYCook

    Good to have you back dude! Perfect time of year to do a tripe parm with all those tomatoes.

  • NYCook

    Just thought about it after i posted but was reading about smoking in your book charcuterie today looking for some good bbq insperation for a special to run and thought of sweet corn ravioli with smoked tomato sauce.

  • mike pardus

    MR and I exchanged notes last night on tomato sauce – while I was in the process of stewing down some mixed “cherry” tomatoes to use as sauce with grilled heart skewers…I told him that I didn’t worry about the seeds – wrong. Using plum tomatoes with their higher flesh/seed ratio it didn’t seem to matter, but I had to throw out last night’s sauce – too many seeds, way too bitter. I like to buy the “culls” at the road side stands – bruised, hail damaged, split – for under $10 a bushel…peel, seed, cook down in a huge pot, can…It’s a weekend project, but with enough good bread and wine it’s not bad.

    This also gives me a chance to plug my posts from India on DelGrosso’s site. Ever taste a “tree tomato”? They sell them for about 75 cents per kilo in southern India…Ripe tomato with Kiwi is the best way to describe.

  • marcj

    I’m surprised more folks aren’t into canning. It’s not that hard – you do have to follow the instructions carefully to avoid spoilage, but it’s well worth it. Last year I bought a half bushel (about 30 lbs) and had enough canned tomatoes to last me the winter – and I eat a lot of tomato sauce. The rest was made into home-canned salsa, which also turned out great.

  • amy

    I’ve always wanted to make my own sauce. Needless to say I like your ideas better…then again I guess I need more patience? : P

    hmmm…I like your options ; P

  • RI Swampyankee

    I, too, have wondered why more people don’t can. Perhaps the task is a bit daunting for one person alone in the kitchen. My canning always involves at least one or two friends and much food and drink.

  • Peter Steinberg

    One of my favorite things to do with tomatoes this time of year?

    1. Lots of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half.

    2. Lots of corn, raw, stripped from the cob.

    3. Italian sausage, both sweet and spicy, grilled and cut into slices.

    4. Some chopped parsley.

    5. A splash of olive oil.

    6. A splash of top-notch balsamic.

    7. A dash of kosher salt.

    8. Toss gently and voila! One of the most amazing Summer salads and it takes all of a few minutes.

    (We’re looking for your cookbook recommendations!)

  • Cali

    This year has been a miserable year for tomatoes in my area. It probably has much to do with all the forest fires and smoke that created atmospheric changes. My older plants are easily eight feet tall but only Mr. Stripey has any tomatoes. One is still very small and the other two are in the green stage in which they are changing from opaque to translucent. There has been much blossom drop and I am now hoping that I don’t experience last year’s blossom end rot and partial pollenization syndrome. Heirloom tomatoes taste wonderful and even the blossoms are pretty, double petaled beauties, but they are not stable producers.

    Next year I go back to hybrids with a couple of favorite heirlooms thrown in. When it comes to my favorite fruit I don’t want to gamble anymore.

  • Judith in Umbria

    I prefer mine cooked just until it is possible to pass it through a food mill. I then freeze it in plastic bags laid flat. It tastes when thawed just as it tastes today. It gets seasoned minimally so that it has more possible applications through the year– never garlic nor any strong herbs, always oil and some soft onion which gets pureed in.
    It is said here, “Less than 10 minutes or more than two hours: the acid lives between.”

  • milo

    If you have blossom end rot, that’s usually because of inconsistent watering. Mulching with something like grass clippings is a huge help, it keeps the soil moisture much more consistent with less watering. Without it, the soil gets soaked, then too dry – those big changes cause both blossom end rot and tomatoes splitting.

  • Sean

    Two friends of ours came over on Saturday and we processed and canned 100 POUNDS of tomatoes. The yield was 24 quarts of sauce and 10 quarts of canned tomatoes, tho the latter separated and reduced a little more than I’d like; a few also didn’t seal, so we drained off the meat and baked them down to get about 20 oz of tomato paste. It’s grueling work, but so much worth the effort.

    I’ll be posting about it this weekend — can’t think about tomatoes for another couple days. 🙂

  • bob

    We’ve been lucky for tomatoes this summer in Portland, Or. We’re growing San Marzanos for our first time, they’re just getting ready to pop. Excited to see how they taste without the Vesuvuas soil. We’re big on tomato jam here, as well as smoking them, and oven drying. And of course, just biting into them right off the vine.
    It seems like a great year for sweet and hot peppers as well, so many new (old) seeds are available at market and in the restaurants. bob

  • AJ

    Instead of the tomato jam in the NY Times magazine, I suggest making the jam that appeared in Bittman’s column of the previous Wednesday. No peeling required and it was easy and worked beautifully with some grape tomatoes picked up at the farmer’s market although Bittman said plum tomatoes were preferable. I served with cornbread on Sunday and with grilled chicken last night. Yummy on both.

  • YOD

    Bruce, thanks so much for that link. I’ll give it a try this weekend after picking up some romas at the farmers market.

  • luis

    The Vita Mix blender is very powerfull. Two horsepower motor.
    It’s been a while since I made gazpacho. Be a shame not to make it this summer?. I will try it again soon. Anything that combines great veggies in a great tasting soup should be included in the monthly menu rotation.

  • luis

    Love making sauces…any type. Pizza sauce is great fun to make. We can get down to the quality of each tomato and how they taste. For sure. But finding decent tasting cheese is another thing. The pasteurization or whatever process we use to produce our cheese just produces a very nasty tasting fatty cheese.

  • David

    I also enjoy tomatoes greatly when they are fresh and all by themselves with a bit of enhancement.
    I kind of went off tomatoes as an ingredient – I was delighted years ago to find that there were plenty of Italian dishes that did not include them, that it was not a primary requisite for that cuisine.
    I find they tend to take over both in colour and flavour, as well as tomato paste staining things.
    The subtle flavours of herbs can definitely be bulldozed by canned tomatoes or tomato paste.

  • maddux

    I’m so envious! We have the WORST tomatoes here in San Francisco, so disappointing that I’ve pretty much given up eating them. A really fabulous tomato is one of the things I miss the most about growing up in Philadelphia… Damn you all

  • jodycakes

    I love your ideas for braising in a tomato based sauce. Thank you for the ideas.
    Can’t wait to hear about the Vita Mix!

  • Bob delGrosso

    I agree with Pardus: cherry tomatoes have far too much seed mass relative to flesh to permit their use for sauce without removing the seeds. They also tend to have a lot more skin relative to flesh which can be dealt with by grinding in a blender but I would not bother with them for sauce unless I had to.

    And peeling cherry tomatoes to make jam? Maybe a tweaker would find that a useful way to spend his time.

  • Sarah S.

    This debate over seeding/not seeing tomatoes for sauce is fascinating, and not only because I’ve got a second batch of 8 pounds of tomatoes on my kitchen counter waiting to be turned into sauce tonight. There’s been some recent research about where the taste–particularly the umami–of tomatoes is the most vivid. Apparently, it’s the seeds!

    I don’t know if this is true for all varieties of tomatoes, or if there’s a point beyond which more umami is too much umami, but it’s certainly interesting.

    (And Dana McCauley, I’ll probably get well over 40 pounds of tomatoes from my 6 plants, in a year that’s not been particularly good for tomatoes.)

  • Sylvie

    I have over 70 tomato plants: 2 cherries (sungold & supersweet 100 – the extra great for drying & freezing whole), yellow pear, 2 paste (Viva Italia & San Marzano), Early girl, Big Beef, Celebrity, German Tree, Flame (aka Hiibilly) and 4 unamed heirlooms that an old neighbor of mine bred.

    So besides eating a lot of tomatoes in many many forms from sandwiches to salad to quick sauce to tart to soup to oven roasting, I’ve been preserving: juice, puree, sauce & paste, feezing & drying. And giving them away…I may not even plant tomatoes next year, since all of those should last quite a while (just kidding). I use some for my clients too, of course.

    I may not plant hot peppers for a few years either! And that’s not kidding…

    At least summer has been particularly hot here, so the canning sessions don’t feel like a Turkish bath!

  • mike pardus

    I like and use MSG, I put Nouc Mam in mac and cheese….I know umami in all of it’s uses and abuses. If the seeds in tomatoes are where the glutamates live, I want to talk to the person who did the research. Can you have too much umami? yes. Is that what I tasted in the cherry tomato sauce – not a chance.

    BTW – has anyone else noticed that okra FLOWERS are far more appealing than their fruit? I like okra, but the flowers look like orchids – drop dead gorgeous. Ill post a pic to DelGrosso’s Blog.

  • Sarah S.

    Chef Pardus-

    I’m very interested to have a chef’s thinking on that research on tomatoes and umami. I’m just a home cook and a joyful eater, so there’s no way that I taste and analyze and think about food as well as you and Michael do. What you say makes me wonder if there’s something that the chemical analysis of tomatoes and umami misses out on –interaction with other ingredients? with the human mouth? with the force of chewing? something like that, anyway.

    Regardless, I thought the article was intriguing, given the discussion here. And I’m really glad it caught your attention, too.

  • Kerry Nolan

    Just to clarify – the recipe from the NYTimes Magazine for tomato marmalade dos not call for cherry tomatoes, but for small PLUM tomatoes. I agree, cherry tomaotes would make for way more work that I would be willing to put into a day’s canning – but plum tomatoes are totally workable.

  • mike pardus

    The article makes a couple of statements that I find confusing, I’m not a botanist, but it seems to me that the seeds are not the same as the placental tissue surrounding the seeds. Placental material is supposed to be nutrient dense to feed the developing “fetus”, but the fetus is not the same thing as the placenta.

    I’m guessing that the “gel” surrounding the seed is the placenta.

    Try separating a single tomato seed from the rest of the pulp, place it in your mouth and suck on it to remove all of the external stuff, leave it in you mouth for a minute or two until the “tomato” taste has subsided, and then BITE down on the seed itself. What do you taste? I just did this – in mid post actually – and the answer is “not much”. Maybe slightly herbaceous/bitter, but not umami – not as I identify it, anyway.

    I think about this stuff a lot, but I don’t know much about the real, physical science of the stuff. If Ive got this all wrong, or If anyone out there can correct me or steer me closer to the truth, let me know.

  • mike pardus

    The article makes a couple of statements that I find confusing, I’m not a botanist, but it seems to me that the seeds are not the same as the placental tissue surrounding the seeds. Placental material is supposed to be nutrient dense to feed the developing “fetus”, but the fetus is not the same thing as the placenta.

    I’m guessing that the “gel” surrounding the seed is the placenta.

    Try separating a single tomato seed from the rest of the pulp, place it in your mouth and suck on it to remove all of the external stuff, leave it in you mouth for a minute or two until the “tomato” taste has subsided, and then BITE down on the seed itself. What do you taste? I just did this – in mid post actually – and the answer is “not much”. Maybe slightly herbaceous/bitter, but not umami – not as I identify it, anyway.

    I think about this stuff a lot, but I don’t know much about the real, physical science of the stuff. If Ive got this all wrong, or If anyone out there can correct me or steer me closer to the truth, let me know.

  • Linda

    I grow lots of tomatoes, many colors and sizes and shapes, and when our first hard frosts appear in September (sometimes not till October) all of my tomatoes, mature and immature, are picked, put in single layers in whatever, and sit in my “sun room” (lots of sun) until they near maturity, usually the last ones are just before Christmas.

    I still eat them (better than store-bought) and I make a great “sauce” with them. I roast the tomatoes (mixed varieties) in a 325 oven with some olive oil and several other options including balsamic vinegar, salt, garlic and onion. I roast them until the liquid is about half reduced. I let them cool and then puree them in my cuisinart. Then a put them in sterilized canning jars with the appropriate amount of lemon juice and put them in a boiling water bath. I have them until my tomatoes are producing again next summer.

    As for the seeds, different varieties of tomatoes have different amounts of seeds. They also have thicker, tastier, sweeter, thinner, etc. skins. San Marzanos are my favorite but Green Zebras are so sweet…. And I use my sauce for pizza, for stews, for marinara or bolognese or whatever.

    Canning rocks, and I have numerous county fair awards to verify that assertion.