My garden has been more prolific than usual this year, and those of you who read this blog often have seen more than your fair share of posts featuring tomatoes as a result. We harvested about 150 pounds of tomatoes this year, and figuring out how to use those requires a fair amount of creativity.
Every summer I make a bunch of roasted tomato soup and can it for winter. It’s easy to make since it does not require peeling the tomatoes. It’s also absolutely delicious and makes a great quick meal when I am hungry and crave comfort food. After making five gallons of soup last year, I learned that we do not need five gallons of soup. Even if it is the best tomato soup around, that’s just way, way, way too much soup for our little family of two. So, after turning our first 40 pounds of tomatoes into jars of soup for our family (plus a few to share!) I declared a moratorium on tomato soup for the season.
Last year I also canned almost two gallons of pasta sauce to eat throughout the winter months. Given how much I love pasta, this was a fabulous choice and the amount was perfect for us. The problem with pasta sauce is that you have to blanch the tomatoes, throw them in an ice bath, peel off the skins, dice them, and *then* you can make the sauce. Oh, so much work! But I did it. About a month ago, I blanched and cooled and peeled and diced for 3 hours one night while playing Princess Bride in the background (“Inconceivable!”) and getting tomato juice and seeds all over every possible surface in my kitchen. It was a real tomato sauce making party.
The next day, my mom told me she had picked out something for my birthday but wasn’t sure if I wanted it. This is a problem when you have a daughter who is a kitchen gadget collector. How do you track all the toys she keeps buying? Mom hemmed and hawed and finally decided to just tell me about the gift to make sure it was something I’d want. I took one look and said, “I have that! It’s a fruit and vegetable strainer for my KitchenAid. It’s how I make gallons of applesauce every year when my tree dumps apples faster than I can bake with them.” My mom looked at me utterly perplexed. “Then why didn’t you use that for your tomatoes last night?” I stared at her blankly. Then it dawned on me. Oh my gosh. This is a fruit and veggie strainer. That’s what it does! It strains out the icky stuff! Oh my gosh… Oh my gosh. Oh. My. Gosh. Hours and hours and hours wasted on a task that could have taken minutes. I could have kicked myself. My dad suggested that instead of buying me nice things for my birthday, they should just buy me instruction manuals. Ha, ha, Dad. Very funny.
No worries, though. My garden had one more 40 pound tomato harvest, so I decided to give it a try. It took a few tries to figure out how to maximize the results, but let me tell you, this is a breeze compared to the way that I used to puree tomatoes! Do you have so many tomatoes that you don’t know what to do with them? Here’s how to puree them with minimal effort. I made a batch of pasta sauce immediately with my puree based largely on this recipe. I adjusted the sugar and spices to taste since I was not using the traditional canned tomatoes. The sauce was so awesome that I canned even more jars for winter. More pasta for us!
- Place as many racks as you can in the oven evenly spaced apart. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with convection turned on. If you do not have convection, you will need to rotate your pans as you cook.
- Cut your tomatoes into chunks or slices and place on a pan. Don’t worry too much about how big the pieces are (I just halved or quartered my tomatoes, depending on their size) and certainly don’t bother with making them pretty. They’re about to be pureed. Save the pretty stuff for later.
- Place the pans in the oven and cook (rotating after 7 minutes if you don’t have convection) for 10-15 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and the skins are bursting a bit. Remove and place in a bowl. Refill the pans with any remaining tomatoes and cook again.
- Ladle the tomatoes into the feed chute of the food mill and watch as the water and puree pours into one bowl and the “ickies” (stems, skins, seeds, cores) plop into another.
Some notes that you should most definitely read:
One, you’ll notice in my set up above that my bowls are all stacked kadiwampus. That’s necessary because the ickies tend to fall backwards into the bowl of puree that you’re making. It’s a bad product design, but there’s nothing I can do about it now, so I have this system set up to ensure that my puree stays pure.
Two, if you don’t heat your tomatoes first, you will lose a lot of the good stuff to the “icky” pile. Just cook ‘em first like I suggested and you will be happy.
Three, my tomatoes are very, very watery. Yours might be too. If that’s the case, boil the puree along with a can or two of tomato paste on medium low for as many hours as it takes to thicken up to the consistency that you’re happy with. If you need to do this, stir the mixture every 30-45 minutes to ensure it doesn’t burn to the bottom.
Four: I would not add flavorings like onions, salt, garlic or any other spices until you want to cook something with your puree. Other than the puree that I reserved for use in pasta sauce, I canned the remaining puree without any additional seasonings so that I can add it to soups and stews later and then adjust seasonings to taste at that time.