In the hopes of limiting our exposure to cardboard tomatoes through the long Wisconsin winter, we decided to buy 50 pounds of tomatoes while they were still in season. Inspired by posts on a couple of my favorite food blogs (Salt & Fat and Smitten Kitchen), I decided to turn them into jarred oven-dried tomatoes and two big batches of tomato sauce: one tomato butter sauce and the other a simple spicy tomato sauce.
Varieties of plum tomatoes are recommended for the oven-dried tomatoes because they are meatier and not too soft for the drying. The drying takes 6 hours in the oven at 200°F, so if you are preparing dried tomatoes and sauce, start with the drying recipe first.
Ingredients: Tomatoes, lots of salt, pure olive oil
Equipment: Large baking sheet(s), glass jars
- Start by cutting off the tops and cutting the tomatoes lengthwise. Use as many tomatoes as you can manage. A large crate looks pretty imposing, but they will shrink A LOT.
- Use your hands to take out the seeds and the juices from the halves. You can put the juice and seeds into a bowl to be used later in the sauce, or you can strain it and have a delicious tomato water drink.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°F and line a large baking sheet (or two or three) with a full layer of salt (don’t be stingy). This salt will absorb the moisture and accelerate the drying process.
- Place the tomato halves on the salted baking sheets, skin side down and place them in the oven.
- Let them sit in the oven for about 6 hours. They will look and feel dry and leathery when they are ready to be canned. While they are drying, clean and dry your jars and lids thoroughly.
- After 6 hours, take out the tomatoes and place them in the jars. Don’t push them in too tight because you do not want to trap air or moisture inside. You can tap the jars on a countertop to get them to settle in place.
- Fill the jars with olive oil. Make sure that the oil completely covers the tomatoes. You may want check on your jars after you have let them sit for a bit to see if the level of oil has gone down as air bubbles have escaped. [Note: Don't splurge on the olive oil; just use pure olive oil or a reasonably priced extra virgin.]
- Keep the jars in the fridge and ration them over the next 6 months. Our house is looking forward to using them in fresh pastas, on homemade bread, or with a nice omlette.
Tomato Butter Sauce and Simple Spicy Tomato Sauce
Ingredients: Tomatoes, salt, butter or olive oil, whole peeled onion(s), favorite spices (bay leaves, whole hot peppers)
Equipment: Large pots, colander, potato masher or food processor, freezer-safe storage containers
I can’t describe the tomato butter sauce better than Smitten Kitchen or Salt & Fat, but then again…it is not very complicated. All you need are tomatoes, whole peeled onions, butter or olive oil, salt (I used some of the salt left over from the drying), and whatever you would like to spice the sauce with. I just used bay leaves and a selection of fresh hot peppers. Here are the simple steps:
- Skin the tomatoes. Get a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add the tomatoes carefully (I always splash myself with the water, so I recommend covering your hands and arms), heat for 1-2 minutes, scoop them out into a bowl, transfer to a colander, and let air dry or spray with cool water in the sink. When they are cool enough to touch, remove the skins (and stems, if necessary) and place the skinless tomatoes into a large pot or bowl.
- Mash them up. You can use your bare hands, a potato masher, a food processor, or whatever large implement does the trick. You can leave the consistency a bit chunky or puree them thoroughly, depending on your tastes.
- Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add all the ingredients together, bring to a boil on medium heat,simmer on low, and stir occasionally until you get the taste and consistency that you want. You can leave the onions whole or cut them in half. For the tomato butter sauce I added the bay leaves to turn down the sweetness of the tomatoes just a notch or two. For the spicy variety, I added a variety of whole hot peppers and a generous amount of olive oil.
- Remove onions and other large ingredients. Leaving the onions whole or in halves allows you to get the sweetness and sharpness of the onions, while maintaining the simple texture of the tomato sauce. Removing the peppers allows you to keep the complementary hint of hotness that they have infused without overpowering the tomatoes. The leftover onions and peppers taste great. I chopped up these ingredients and threw them over a fresh bowl of pasta, herbs, and olive oil.
- Let cool and pour into freezer-safe containers. The stronger the seal the better.
- Ration. It may be difficult to make the sauce last throughout the winter, so you may want to set rules to prevent your housemates (and yourself) from eating it all too soon. Unless you have a deep freezer, make sure to finish your sauce within 6 months.
And there you have it! 50lbs. of tomatoes prepared for the long winter ahead.