Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Posted by Kate at 6:31 AM
Tomatoes! Finally. We're more than half way through tomato month - August - and the beefsteak tomatoes are just now getting around to ripening up en masse. They've been hanging on the vine for months, it seems, taunting me. Well they're comin' in now. I picked that pile yesterday, roasted a bunch of them, pureed them into sauce, and then canned them. (Which reminds me: I plan to report on my canning successes and failures soon.)
Featured in that picture above are Cherokee Purple tomatoes (kinda greenish red), as well as Brandywines (deep pink-red). I really have no idea what those yellow tomatoes are or how they showed up in my garden. They sure look like the German Stripes I grew last year, but I didn't think I was germinating any of those this time around. That one long tomato is a variety of paste tomato called the Super Marzano. I haven't been terribly impressed by it, but then paste tomatoes are rarely exciting. The other plum tomatoes are just Romas.
The Cherokee Purples were planted on the recommendation of a friend who swore they were better than my favorites, the Brandywine. The Cherokees are good, very flavorful and lively. But I still think the Brandywines have a better taste overall. The trouble with Brandywines is that they're prissy. They split very easily after rains. I almost never get one that isn't damaged in some way by the time I get it in the house. The Cherokees grow in clusters so dense that it's a little intimidating to try and pick just one. I'm convinced that a marketer came up with the German Stripes. They're huge, look beautiful, and they have almost no flavor. The ones I've got this year (if that's what they are), are going straight into sauce. The main point and virtue of the paste tomato varieties is that they're good for making sauce. Because they are more meaty and less juicy, it's not as much work to reduce them to a sauce consistency. As a side bonus of this quality, they very rarely split, even after heavy rains.
You can see that I'm an equal opportunity tomato consumer when it comes to sauce. Anything that's ripe that isn't going to get eaten in a sandwich is fair game. My recipe is as follows. Preheat the oven to 475 F. Arrange a rack on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Put a couple tablespoons each of tomato paste and olive oil in a bowl. Add some dried oregano or another herb of your choice, as well as a generous pinch of salt and ground pepper. Mix well. Cut your tomatoes in half over the bowl to collect any juice, and let the tomatoes drop into the bowl. When you've got a good amount, toss them well with the paste and oil so that they are coated. Arrange them cut sides down on the rack. Cut up one onion into large slices and add a few cloves of garlic if you wish. Toss the sliced onion and garlic with whatever liquid remains in the bowl. Fold a little sheet of aluminum foil to hold the onions and garlic and place them on the tray. (Them's the charred onions in the top right corner of the sheet tray.) Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the skins are well charred. Let the ingredients cool for 10-15 minutes, then puree everything in a food processor or blender. If you're fussy you can remove the skins before pureeing, but I generally leave them on. You can leave the sauce a bit chunky too if you like. The rack keeps the tomatoes from just turning to slush in their own juices. You can add the drippy bits in the pan into your sauce if you wish, or just dress your salad with the stuff.
Ah, August! This brief window of tomato sandwiches is savored and anticipated all year. The canned sauce is nice. But nothing beats an open faced tomato sandwich with purple basil. That's what I'm talking about...