Tomato Glut-ton – Michal Haines
Summer has all the joys of easy gardening. No cold rains, frosts and lack of sunlight to worry about. Just long clear, glorious days to help process all those wonderful natural sugars to make for sweet and juicy tomatoes.
I can’t find even a single city dweller at the moment who hasn’t got at least one tomato plant in fruit in their meagre garden. In our little garden, we have a veritable forest climbing its way up trees and the rather intricate and somewhat crazed looking twine structures that have been created for them.
But I have to admit that each year the tomato plants get more plentiful and it is as if we have forgotten the previous year’s plague of tomatoes that we inevitably get sick of, give away to those less fortunate than ourselves in their own tomato growth and eventually leave to rot on the ground. A sad reality once one gets sick of tomatoes every single night!
As fellow gardeners begin to lose sight of their bench tops and the inside of their fridges due to the sheer abundance of their labour, they begin to almost lament that they only need one of their prized beef steaks to make a rich and flavoursome tomato based pasta sauce. The stock standard question in mid to late summer is “What can I do with all the tomatoes in my garden?”
Last year I showed my husband how to make his own tomato sauce for bottling and now as the ‘plague’ continues to grow and amass; we will begin the process of preserving them once again.
Now I am not necessarily talking about preserving as in chutneys, relishes and sauce to have with the odd snarler. I am talking about the pure golden glory of cracking open a jar of our own slow cooked tomato sauce that is the base ingredient to any number of wintery dishes. As you sit down to that hearty rich slow cooked bolognaise on a rainy cold night, you can taste those rays of sunshine and the fullness of flavour from your own spray free fruit. Those super quick pasta dishes that you throw together after a hard day of work mid week just taste that little bit better due to your own semi dried tomatoes or ‘passata’ you have created and stored away for those leaner months. Think eggplant Parmigiana in half the time, think richly coloured tomato risotto, think braised lamb shanks, think paprika, tomato and olive slow cooked chicken…..
There has to be a level of smug satisfaction about your own tomato sauce!!
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy a good hand made chutney on the table but I have to admit, I always have a gleeful grin when I open the pantry door and see those rows of tomato sauce packed away after a long hot summer.
I follow a few basic rules for my sauces which are pretty straight forward.
Cherry tomatoes have a burst of flavour that can’t be mistaken. A slightly more acidic taste makes them a great choice for an uncrushed, quick cooked tomato sauce where texture is the key.
Your giant beefsteaks and heirloom varieties have more sweetness as they stay on the vine ripening for a little longer but can also bring with them a tougher skin. Use them for longer cooked tomato sauces, chutney and relishes.
Any bruised fruit will still be fine but the taste can be compromised. Any thing that has the slightest look of mould I discard as you never know what might happen six months from now in the back of the pantry if that mould where to keep growing….somehow. Highly unlikely but like most things with food use the good stuff and you will be rewarded.
I use my own garden herbs to enhance and enrich some of my sauces, and certainly when I pack those little leathery semi dried tomatoes away in oil and garlic, fresh basil or oregano can’t be beaten.
You will need about 30 cherry or 12-14 medium sized tomatoes to make enough sauce for one serve of pasta for four people so make it worth your while when you make a batch. A kilo will yield enough for a few jars, dependant on a slow or fast cooked recipe. Purest will insist upon peeling, but I am happy with the rustic skins for a sauce that will inevitably be used with other big textures and flavours. For a fine ‘passata’ or tomato stock, passing it all through a sieve will do the trick to remove anything but pure essence of tomato.
Garlic and onions are not a necessity but I like the gentle background taste that it gives and in the jar it has more time to mellow out and truly become one with the tomato flavours. Salt and sugar also can be vital to a good balance and each year the amount will differ due to your fruit. Taste test before you bottle in case you need to add a little more.
I also like to bottle them in a variety of different sized jars. I may only need a little for a pizza base but almost a litre for a lamb shank dish for instance, so never throw away what seems like a silly little jar as it could be ideal for all sort of preserves.
It isn’t hard so this year, as you are reading that frivolous romance novel on the deck, have a pot of tomatoes bubbling away ready to bottle. After you have finished baking leave the oven on to dry some tomatoes and find yourself a good fine sieve to make a type of passata or what is called tomato stock in my house-strained cooked tomatoes. These are great for pasta sauces, pizza bases, cassoulet and slow cooked dishes, soups….. The applications are limitless. Collect jars-it’s another form of recycling-and clear some space in the pantry somewhere cool and dark so they can sit happily and mature for a few months. Just think in the depths of winter despair you can bring one out, pry off the lid and smell that true scent of summer again.
Fast Cooked Cherry Tomato Sauce
Makes 2- 3 x 300g jars
1 kilo ripe cherry tomatoes, stalks removed
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped roughly
1 teaspoon sugar
In a large pot, heat olive oil and garlic till the garlic has softened but not turning brown.
Add the cherry tomatoes and sugar and cook over a moderate heat for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and bottle in clean, sterilised jars with tight fitting lids.
Slow Cooked Tomato Sauce
Makes 2-3 x 300g jars
1 kilo ripe tomatoes-any variety, stalks removed and cut into quarters or if very large, thirds
10 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 brown onions, peeled and finely chopped
1-3 teaspoon sugar
1-3 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
In a large pot heat a little oil and brown the garlic and onion till softened but not turning brown.
Add the tomatoes, balsamic, sugar and salt and mix well.
Cook over a low heat, uncovered at just a slight bubble for 2 hours stirring occasionally to stop any sticking. You want the tomatoes to truly cook down to so they are merely pulp.
Add the herbs just at the end of the cooking time so their flavour is kept intense. Simply stir through and then remove from the heat and bottle in clean sterilised jars with tight fitting lids.
Cooked Passata or Tomato Stock
Makes 1-2 x 300g jars
1 kilo ripe tomatoes-any variety, stalk removed and cut into quarters or if very large, thirds
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 brown onion, peeled and quartered
1-3 teaspoon sugar
1-3 teaspoon salt
Follow same method as for slow cooked tomato sauce.
At the point that you would add herbs, pass all through a fine sieve to collect all the onion, garlic, skins and pulp. Pour into clean sterilised jars and add some fresh herbs if desired and fit on lid.
Oven Dried Tomatoes
Makes 1-2 200g jars
1 kilo ripe tomatoes-any variety, halved
1 kilo sea salt
On a baking tray, spread the salt out evenly and then layer the halves tomatoes on top in a single layer skin side down into the salt.
Place in a preheated oven at 100 C for 3 hours or until they are completely dried and leathery looking. You may like to take them out sooner so they are not so dried-more semi dried-so keep checking on them from time to time. Remove them from the salt. The salt can be used for another round of drying so don’t throw it away.
To bottle Tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Fresh oregano or basil
Simply layer tomatoes with the garlic slices and fresh herbs nice and tightly into a jar.
Pour in the olive oil and push down the tomatoes to let any air pockets escape.
Fit with a tight fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.