Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eat your Veggies: It's All About the Sauce

This year, I planted 5 San Marzano tomato plants with the goal of having enough tomatoes to make a few batches of sauces to freeze for winter (i'm not quite organized enough for canning- yet).   

I kept a tally of the number of tomatoes I harvested from the five plants.  At last count, I picked well over 244 good-sized plum tomatoes.  I'm no expert, but that sounds like a pretty good harvest to me!  I probably had even more tomatoes but did lose track after a certain point.  That tally also isn't counting the green tomatoes I liberated from the plants that have slowly been ripening on my counter.

Throughout the harvest, I have been testing out various tomato sauce recipes and experimenting with different techniques.  Sadly, my first few batches were not very successful (results were tasty but hardly made enough to save for freezing).   I hated wasting so many tomatoes, but it was a necessary evil to discover two different techniques that I will probably always use to process my tomatoes from now on.  I also found out along the way that I don't like skins in my sauce, I don't mind seeds, and I prefer things to be a little thick and smooth.

For me, a sauce recipe/technique has to be a. easy to do b. not too time consuming or labour intensive c. results in a lot of sauce that I can use for a meal that day with enough leftover to freeze for winter and d.  tasty, of course.

The first recipe/technique, I got from a fellow local blogger and professional garden guru, the "year round veggie gardener" (can't wait to add her book that's coming out next year to my library!).  You can check the recipe out here:

http://yearroundveggiegardener.blogspot.com/2010/09/craigs-roasted-tomato-sauce.html

This recipe gets top marks for being so easy and a great technique to use when I'm feeling extra lazy. For some of the batches, I tried a couple of added steps- first removing the skins before popping the whole thing in the oven and running my immersion blender through the finished product to make it smooth.  The recipe is really adaptable too.  One batch I put anise seeds and a vanilla pod into the mix, with interesting flavours resulting. 

The second recipe I really like- which is also nice and easy-, is one I found to make tomato paste.  While this one takes a little longer in cooking time, the results were nice and thick and preparation time was minimal.  The recipe can be found here:

http://localfoods.about.com/od/condiments/ss/tomatopaste.htm

First let me say that following this recipe to the end tomato paste stage is so worth it!  The tomato paste was incredibly delicious !  I can't say enough about it.  I was literally eating spoonfuls of the thick goodness right from the pan.  So rich in flavour!  To store the paste, I didn't put it in jars (like in the instructions) but rather froze it in ice cube trays and then popped them into a freezer bag.  It uses a lot of tomatoes for a small amount of paste, but well worth it because whenever I need some paste, I can just pop in an ice cube or two to really enhance the flavour of any sauce.  So much better than what you get in a bpa-lined can!

I also used the same recipe to make tomato sauce.  After the step of pureeing and straining the tomatoes in a food mill, I had a nice smooth sauce (skin free!) that I cooked on the stove top with various combinations of garlic, thyme, oregano, basil, etc.  I knew it was ready when the sauce had cooked down a bit to become slightly thickened.

While I did have a lot of waste, I'm glad I now have a couple of different techniques to use next year.  I still have one more lot of tomatoes in a basket on my counter that have gone from green to red and are now over-due for processing.  Perfect for my other go-to tomato recipe- veggie stock.

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