Thirty-five tomato plants. Yep that’s what’s in my little urban garden.
Ten different varieties of heirloom tomatoes and I’m bound not to let a single juicy orb go to waste.
All was good during June as the tomatoes slowly ripened, just enough to feed my daily tomato sandwich ritual. Then WHAM, the plants went nuts and I’ve got tomato overload. You may have a different problem, one of farmers’ market over buying. The tomatoes are too beautiful not to buy.
I have a kitchen full of tomatoes. Correct that: I’ve had a kitchen full of tomatoes for weeks. Daily there has been a tomato dish on the table: tomato, basil and mozzarella salad, BLT’s, old-fashioned stewed tomatoes (you know the kind with bread), and everybody I know has had a tomato pie made with local cheeses. Then I went to canning. Ketchup made only with yellow tomatoes, cocktail sauce, a bruschetta mix, and just plain canned tomatoes. The skin on my face is almost perfect from all the steam facials I’ve had every time I take off the lid from the canning pot. And of course I was doing this during the height of humidity. Then I feel guilty, thinking of my grandmother doing this in an un-air-conditioned house, not because it was a cool thing to do or because she didn’t want to eat commercially processed foods, but because she had to for survival.
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The tomatoes, well, they are still coming.
One of my favorite guides to canning is “Jean Anderson’s Preserving Guide.” In those pages I stumbled upon her frozen pasta sauce recipe and decided to stop canning and give it a try. Jean is one of our homegrown miracles; a Raleigh-born, Chapel Hill-based food writer and recipe developer who is always spot on. She has been an inspiration to chefs and writers alike. The “go to” sage of food wisdom is she. I knew the recipe would be good, but just how good was amazing.
I’ve made the recipe three times now, with a mix of heirloom tomatoes, and plan to do another batch or two. The recipe preserves all the goodness of the flavor inherent in the tomato, and on a cold night in January it’s going to revive me with the hint of summer to come. Jean’s recipe calls for either red or white wine and here’s the difference. The red, gives you a hearty, very Italian depth, perfect for adding a meat ragu or sausage. The white is more delicate and more versatile. I do one thing different than Jean. After the initial hour of cooking, I pour the sauce in a slow cooker, place the lid ajar, and cook on low for 6-8 hours. That way I don’t have to watch the pot and stir a bunch to keep the sauce from sticking. Jean, if that’s a disgrace to your sauce, chide me on Facebook, but I get a beautifully thick, slightly chunky sauce that is truly a sauce for the gods.
Jean, thanks for letting me put the canning pot away for a while and giving me an awesome freezable recipe. You are a gem. Although I do think I need another steam facial.
Fred Thompson is a Raleigh cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont magazine. His latest cookbook is “The Kamado Grill Cookbook.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Almost Jean Anderson’s Frozen Pasta Sauce
Adapted from Jean Anderson’s Preserving Guide (UNC Press, 2012).
2 large Spanish Onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/3 cup olive oil
24 ripe tomatoes, heirlooms preferred, peeled cored and chopped, reserve the juices
1 medium sized red pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried summer savory leaves
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground mace (nutmeg also works)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, more later if the tomatoes are tart
1 tablespoon Kosher salt, more later if needed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups dry red or white wine
Sauté the onions in the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook until the onions have a bit of color, usually 5 minutes more.
Pour in the tomatoes, their juice and the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally.
Remove the cover and cook another hour, stirring frequently, until the desired thickness is reached. Or my trick pouring the sauce in a slow cooker leaving the lid ajar and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until a thickness you like has developed. Taste and add more brown sugar and salt if needed. Remove the bay leaves.
Cool and pack in 1 quart freezer containers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Lid and label, then freeze.
Serve with pasta. Add some meatballs or Italian sausage to the sauce for variety. It also makes a great base for soups and stews.
Yields: between 2-4 quarts depending on how thick you want it