Tomato Day 2011

Two years ago, soon after my kitchen renovation had completed, a friend and I decided to make tomato sauce and freeze it for the winter season.  I used to keep canned tomato sauce and tomato paste as a pantry staple (long live Costco), but once I had my own batch, there was no turning back.

The first year, we used Early Girl tomatoes and San Marzanos – the Early Girl’s yielded very little sauce for the amount of effort, so the following year (and this year), I used San Marzanos only.

We showed up the Mariquita Farms U-Pick early Saturday morning, after a quick stop at Peet’s Coffee on the way.  This is the same farm that I picked up Black Prince tomatoes, strawberries and padron peppers a while ago. Picking 100 pounds of tomatoes took us under an hour, and we were back on the road to start the cooking.  While we were getting our tomatoes weighed, I noticed some beautiful poblano peppers that were being sold which screamed chilli relleno to me (I’ll share that adventure with you soon).  We also picked a few heirlooms to have in a salad, which were so sweet – perfect with some olives and feta.

San Marzanos (about 45lbs worth), a few heirlooms and poblano peppers

I thought I’d share some photo highlights of what I made this weekend – there really isn’t a “recipe” for what I did this weekend, but I’ll try to explain along the way.

1) Wash the tomatoes! They might have been organic, but needed a solid soak and wash.

Washing the tomatoes in the sink

2) Place the tomatoes in the pot and pierce them with a knife with random stabs (now I know what Dexter must feel like). On medium-high, cover the tomatoes and start simmering.

Beginning the cooking process

3) Use a potato masher to occasionally help the tomatoes give off their juices – the more you cook down now, the easier it will be later when you mill the tomatoes

Tomatoes are reduced by 1/3 but need to get down to 1/2

4) Once the tomatoes have cooked down, run them through your food mill – I bought the Oxo one a few years ago (Bed, Bath and Beyond with a 20% coupon is your best deal) which I absolutely love because of the rubber feet that extend out and can cover the largest pot I own. After milling the tomatoes, I simmered the sauce to my desired consistency. Having to cook down the sauce when you need to use it defeats the purpose of having it always readily available – it is always easy to add water back later in my opinion.

Milling the tomatoes to prepare for the simmering process

Once the sauce had cooked, I used it in a few different ways. I had a fresh bunch of basil I had picked up from the farmers market, so once one of the pots of sauce was ready and cooled, I blended in basil leaves to have a ready to use mix for a quick tomato soup. In addition to the basil, I also added some lemon juice – it cuts the sweetness in the tomatoes.

The basil from the market was just gorgeous!
Long live my Cuisinart stick blender!

The second thing I tried out this year was to make tomato paste. I coated my favourite non-stick cooking sheet (that has a rim) with some olive oil and poured in the cooked sauce. I baked this at about 250F for 3 hours to create the paste. All it needed was a couple of stirs along the way, but was so simple to do. Once the paste was ready, I allowed it to cool and then transferred it to my Orka ice cube trays.  I love these trays because they come with a lid and have a rubber bottom in each section that allows for easy removal.  I bought these trays for pesto last year, and though they are a bit pricey, it is so worth it.

Getting ready to place in the oven
Ready to freeze in my Orka trays

The last thing I made was a roasted tomato, garlic and oregano sauce. I coated my favourite roasting pan with olive oil and added in the tomatoes, 2 heads of garlic (peeled) and fresh oregano leaves from the garden. I cooked this in the stove for 5 hours at 250F (I had the tomato paste in at the same time). Once it was ready, I milled it and simmered it down on the stove. I’ll use this version as a pizza sauce or quick pasta sauce.

Getting ready to be cooked in the oven
Cooked down and ready to mill

With the exception of the tomato paste, I placed all the tomato basil mix, roasted tomato sauce and basic sauce in one quart Ziploc bags and placed them in the freezer. I made each packet approximately one to two cups – that way there’s no wasting the sauce by defrosting more than I can use in a meal.

I’m pretty tired of tomatoes right now, but I’ll be happy I made the effort once tomato season is over – I have the taste of fresh summer tomatoes locked up in my freezer!

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