Thursday, October 4, 2012

Eats - Tomato Mania

Hello! It seems that I can never resist the lure of home-grown tomatoes and I have the hours in the kitchen - and a full freezer in the basement - to prove it. The local farmer's market was ready to comply with my tomato mania. I started out with half-pecks of Romas, which I used to make tomato sauce and salsa. I also filled a quart bag full of dried tomatoes (I'd purchased an inexpensive food dehydrator several years ago on eBay).

But last week I spotted something at the farmer's market that made my bargain-loving heart sing: a large cardboard box piled with a variety of heirloom tomatoes. Orange, red, green, burgundy - they were a feast for the eyes - and were only $10.00 for the whole box. They were so inexpensive because they were canning grade, which meant they had to be used up quickly. There were soft spots forming on some of the tomatoes, which would lead to spoilage soon. 

Alas, I neglected to take a photo of these tomatoes, but I'd estimated there were over 30 pounds in that one box. I sorted them out when I got home, setting aside the ones in the best shape for sandwiches and for a pasta sauce that uses raw tomatoes. 

I'd already made so much tomato sauce that I didn't really need to make anymore, so looked through my recipe files to see what else I could try. I decided to try making something called "Tomato Essence" (unknown source; it's a magazine clipping). 

The recipes calls for pureeing 10 lbs of tomatoes through a food mill, but as I have a Vita Mix, I could skip this step. Instead, I cut up the tomatoes and put them in a large pot.

You can see the various colors of the heirloom tomatoes bubbling away.

As instructed in the recipe, I cooked the mixture until it was reduced by half. The next step called for was straining the tomatoes through a fine sieve. This is where the Vita Mix came in handy - I just pureed the tomatoes until the skins and seeds were liquified along with the pulp. I don't know if other blenders are powerful enough to do this, but it sure saved me a lot of time and mess!

Above, the reduced tomato mixture has been pureed and is now ready to be cooked down further. The recipe indicated that the mixture is to be cooked until it's been reduced to four cups. At this point, it needs to be stirred often to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot. I used this time to tackle a cleaning job in the kitchen, stopping my scrubbing every few minutes to stir the sauce. 

Here's the four cups I ended up with:
This recipe had appealed to me because of its description:  "To add an intense burst of tomato taste to soups, vinaigrettes, sauces, or juices, use tomato essence...You can also freeze this essence, so it's ready for you to use whenever you want to enjoy the incomparable flavor of homegrown tomatoes." 

That sounded wonderful to a tomato lover like me! But I tasted the mixture once it had cooled and discovered that it tasted a lot like...tomato paste. I was a little bummed at first, since after all tomato paste doesn't exactly taste like "homegrown tomatoes" - it just tastes like, well, tomato paste. But then I cheered up a bit - after all, I'd gotten a good buy on those heirloom tomatoes and had enjoyed them on sandwiches and pasta before cooking the rest.  And since I froze my tomato essence in small amounts, it'll be handy to use in recipes - and will hold me over until next year's tomato crop comes in!

I admit I'm a little tired of tomato cooking by now, but still am happy with what I had accomplished.

Cute, no? This is one of the flaps on the box of heirloom tomatoes, turned upside down!


1 comment:

  1. Have you ever made Tomato Soup from scratch? I'd love a good recipe for it since my son loves it. It's good for when the braces need to be adjusted. Great post as usual. All the photos made me drool a bit. Nothing like a fresh tomato though, right?