Every August I’m overcome with the urge to store food for the winter. Clearly some holdover from an ancient brain. After all, it’s unlikely the grocery stores will be barren come December. Nonetheless, there is something innately satisfying about using the season’s overflowing produce at the peak of perfection to create some delectable dishes for those cold winter nights when all you want to do is crawl into a hole and pull the world in after you.
In southern Ontario we are blessed with an abundance of fresh fruits & vegetables, and in August, tomatoes in particular. It’s relatively easy to procure excellent canned tomatoes throughout the year, so it makes sense to use these little beauties for ingredients that need a little more TLC, such as roasted tomatoes and tomato puree for sauces and soups.
Roasted tomatoes are very simple to make, and fill the house with a delectable aroma as they slowly collapse into a dense, deeply and richly flavoured form for use in soups, stews or filled with chevre or bocconcini for a lovely appetizer. Subscribing to the “go big or go home” philosophy, we used a bushel of plum tomatoes.
Wash thoroughly, slice in half lengthwise, place face up on rimmed baking sheets, gratin or lasagna pans, drizzle with olive oil, add a little chopped garlic and some fresh thyme from the garden. Place in a 325 degree oven for 2-3 hours and presto. We froze a bunch in 2 and 4 c containers, used some in Roasted Three Tomato Pesto Soup and set some aside for Roasted Tomato Tart with Shrimp, adapted from a recipe I clipped out of an issue of Victoria Magazine many years ago.
Another bushel went to making tomato puree, aided by a food mill we found at Lee Valley several years ago. It’s great quality, inexpensive and very easy to use. The mill separates the tomato puree from the seeds and skins readily and quickly. While the instructions indicate you should dip whole tomatoes into boiling water before feeding them through the mill, we found that chopping them into large chunks and cooking them for about 10 minutes until slightly softened was an easier and more thorough process. We did run the tomato skins & seeds through the mill for a second time, and were very gratified to see the waste product reduced to practically nothing. We ladeled the majority of the tomato puree into mason jars we’d washed in the dishwasher on “sani”, topped the jars with new sealer lids heated in boiling water for a few minutes, then screwed on the sealer rings. We boiled the filled jars in a deep water bath for 30 minutes before removing them to a wooden board to cool. It’s important not to put the very hot glass jars onto a cold countertop lest the jars crack from the shock. You know you’ve got a good seal when you hear the satisfying “clink” of the sealer lid retreating as the liquid inside cools and creates a vacuum.
We included the rest of the puree in Roasted Three Tomato Pesto Soup, and made a quadruple batch of Bolognese sauce for the freezer. Exhausted, but deeply satisfied, my inner squirrel is content. Winter can do its worst; we won’t starve.