Monday, July 26, 2010

A Simple Solar Cooked Meal

This exceptionally hot summer has given us tomatoes worthy of the name in July.  I usually have to wait until August for a good garden tomato.  Pretty soon here, the fresh tomatoes will be coming in like gangbusters, and hardly a meal will squeak by without the addition of tomato in one form or another. In a week or so, I may have enough tomatoes at one time to do some canning.

Sometimes after a long day of gardening and other chores, I want a break with dinner preparation. Less frequently, I have foresight enough to know when I'm going to need that break. When that happens, this is a recipe that gets me a long way towards having dinner taken care of before I've eaten breakfast.  I like it and share it with you because it's a solar-cooked dish that can be prepared by anyone with a place to set a bowl in full sunlight for several hours during the day.  I made this back when I was a college student, long before I thought about investing in a solar oven.

Here's what to do:

Ideally you've got a large clear pyrex or glass mixing bowl.  Barring that, a ceramic bowl with a dark glaze is a good choice, but any non-reactive bowl will work.  Cut up the equivalent of a few large tomatoes (about 1.5 lbs/ 0.75 kg) directly over the bowl into rough chunks, allowing all the juices to fall in too. You can mix and match your tomatoes - anything ripe from the garden is perfect.  Then peel a few cloves of garlic, chop them, and add them to the bowl. Drizzle in some olive oil, add a generous amount of salt (preferably kosher) and freshly ground pepper, and stir everything once or twice. If you want to, you can add a fresh sprig of thyme, oregano, sage, or torn up basil leaves. Or you can wait until the sauce is "done" to season it further. Cover the bowl with saran wrap (plastic, I know, but this is a good use for previously used pieces) and poke several tiny holes in the plastic with a toothpick.  Place it where it will get sun as much of the day as possible.  If sunlight is limited where you are, placing it on a dark surface such as brick or macadam will speed the cooking.

At the end of the day, this delicately cooked tomato sauce will be warm, luscious, and still chunky. A little bit of the moisture will have escaped by the holes in the plastic, but it will still have quite a bit of liquid.  Taste it and adjust the salt and pepper if you wish.  Now all it needs is the addition of an herb if you didn't add any before cooking.

You can cook some pasta and add the sauce, dressing it up with extra veg if you have any. Or you can toast thick slices of bread (stale bread would be okay), tear them into bits and toss with the sauce and some mozzarella cheese for a simple panzanella salad. You can mash stale bread cubes into the liquid, add some chopped cucumber, pepper and onion, and have a warmish sort of gazpacho.  This stuff is also superb over thick slices of grilled eggplant. If you happen to have some cooked white beans on hand, they pair beautifully with this sauce and some extra olive oil. If left to sit with this sauce overnight, freshly cooked beans will soak up much of the extra liquid.  The sauce would probably compliment steamed or poached fish beautifully too, though I haven't tried that.

In any case, I like having dinner half made and already in a bowl when 7 o'clock rolls around.  And I especially like a dish made largely from garden ingredients with free energy.  Try it; I think you'll like it.


Bev said...

It sounds delicious - I can't wait to have ripe tomatoes from my own garden to try it!

Thanks for sharing the recipe!


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

That's utter genius.

We don't have enough tomatoes yet -- our Sungolds are just beginning to come in -- but when they start ripening fast and furious, this is what I'll do.

Glad to have you back, Kate.

Anonymous said...

THIS ONE, this one ROCKS.

You're on the RSS feed now. Actually, I just wanted to say a huge thanks for sharing your ideas and life. I read a number of frugal/green/DIY blogs and growing up with hippie parents makes me want to bang my head against the wall and tell the blogger "yar doin it wrong" (cute kitty pic omitted). But your experiences shared are wonderful. Thank you!

Wendy said...

Oh, yum! I can't wait until my tomatoes are ready so that I can try this recipe. Most of my family members don't like tomatoes, but they all like tomato sauce, and this sounds just so incredibly easy. I like easy ;).

Bonnie Story said...

This is fantastic, actually it's a total breakthrough! Wow, i cannot wait to have tomatoes to fool around with.

Miyuki said...

Mmmh sounds delicious! I can't wait to hear more solar oven adventures.

patricew said...

That photo is stunning! What gorgeous tomatoes!! Recipe sounds great too! Glad you are back, hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kate. I'll be trying this once our tomatoes start ripening, though I made a solar cooker with the children and the sky promptly clouded over! Hope the sun comes back so I can make this.

Kate said...

Bev, you're welcome. Happy to share.

Tamar, thanks. Good to be back and to have that week behind me. I know whenever your tomatoes come in you'll make this dish your own in some ingenious way I'd never think of.

Anon, I'm flattered, and glad to have you here.

Wendy, if your family isn't into tomato, you might have to do something else to this sauce when it's done cooking. Because this sauce is so gently cooked, it's awfully close to just cut up fresh tomato with some juice. All the sugars and esters of the raw fruit are pretty close to their natural raw state. Tomato lovers will love it, but others.... Well, try it, see what they think, and report back, please.

Bonnie, thanks. I hope you enjoy it when your tomatoes come in.

Hey, Miyuki! I'll certainly post any solar successes. Hope things are well with you.

Patricew, thanks. They really are gorgeous, aren't they? This is my second year growing them, Speckled Roman tomatoes, and I think I've found my mainstay paste tomato. They're really stunning visually, have a very good taste for a paste, they're meaty, and they appeared to resist the blight last year better than any other variety I grew. Oh, and they're also a stabilized hybrid, so that's another bonus.

Hi, Hazel. I'm sure your tomatoes will ripen and your cooker come in handy, even in England, sooner or later. I've been to several diverse places on your island, and I know you get sun there occasionally. Keep the faith!

Anonymous said...

LOL! we do get *some* sun!! Not very predictably, admittedly....
This years been quite good :-)

Whereabouts have you been to in the UK?


Jennifer Montero said...

Right - I'm sold. Our sungolds are just coming ripe now and as we're blessed with an unusually sunny summer this year, I'll make the solar tomato sauce while the sun shines. Thanks for the recipe.

My mother taught me to make iced tea the same way: cold water, teabags, mason jar and let the sun do the brewing. Strain it, lemon and sugar and in the fridge.

Kate said...

Hazel, I've spent a bit of time in Cornwall, though many years ago. Also visited Bath, Glastonbury, Cambridge, the Lake District, and London of course. In Scotland I enjoyed visiting the Borders, Oban, the West Highlands, Ayrshire, and Dumfries and Galloway, which reminded me quite a bit of where I live.

Jennifer, we make sun tea in a one-gallon jar all summer long. We don't even bother taking out the tea bags, just let it cool and stick it in the fridge. I think I'll have some right now! Gonna be another hot one today, though at least we've had a few cool nights lately. That helps a lot. This is my first year growing Sungolds. So far I can't say I'm impressed. At least half of them split badly by the time they ripen. And we haven't even had much rain lately, nor have I watered them recently. The flavor is fine, but nothing otherworldly. Do yours perform any differently?

Anonymous said...

What beautiful looking tomatoes!

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate - You know, you're right about their tendency to split? Even with fairly even watering. I think the skins are quite thin (probably another reason they're of no commercial value). But ours at least are incredibly sweet, almost too sweet. My husband eats them like candy.

Thanks for the tip on sun tea!

Eleanor said...

What kind of tomotoes are those? They look great! How is the disease/bug resistance? I think I might like to try them next year.

Chris and his Tomatoes said...

Oh I've got to try this. Is this what they call sun dried tomatoes?

Is there a chance that the tomatoes will be spoiled if you leave them out in the sun?

Kate said...

Jennifer, I'm giving the Sungolds some time yet. Tomatoes here tend to improve in flavor after the initial harvests.

Eleanor, see above. They're Speckled Romans.

Chris and his ______, I doubt there's any risk of spoilage from one day of solar cooking. UV radiation, acidity, garlic, olive oil, and heat all retard bacterial growth; and these are all components of this sauce. If you left the ingredients out there for several days through the cooler overnight temperatures, you might have a problem. But if you sent them out on a sunny day and eat the sauce at the end of that day, I think you're safe. It's always worked for me.

Joel said...

I just tried this today, using a black bowl and a glass saucepan lid. It worked well.

After the solar cooking, I added a little balsamic vinegar and broiled it briefly. Yum!

Kate said...

Joel, glad it worked for you, and thanks for letting me know of your refinement of the technique. The balsamic sounds good.

Chris said...

Hi! Thanks for the tip. I might try that one of these days when I'm feeling adventurous.

Kate said...

Chris, you're welcome. Still planning to try this technique this year? Are you in the southern hemisphere? Our tomatoes are finito for this year.