Saving those tomatoes…
It’s the time of year in the South when tomatoes are taking longer and longer to ripen. Whether you have your own tomato plants, and have left those few tomatoes a bit too long, or if you’ve bought them and failed to do something with them for erm…a few weeks, here’s a way to use them up. Basically, you’re turning the tomatoes into the whole or chopped sort of thing you get from a can. It’s not incredibly taxing, and you don’t even have to use them that night. But at least you won’t be throwing them away, and you’ll have accomplished a wee “from scratch” effort. You do want at least 5-6 tomatoes at least an inch in diameter (the size of your largest pot is the limit) or a lot of cherry tomatoes, for this to be really worth it though. This can be especially handy in a flatting situation where 2 people buy tomatoes that get forgotten, and instead of letting them rot into oblivion on the table (I hope none of you are putting your tomatoes in the fridge…!), you can save yourself from needing that can of tomatoes you always seem to pick up (ahem…not that I or anyone in our flat does this).
So, what sort of tomatoes can be used? Anything, really – they can be as soft and spoiled as you like, BUT anything with mould (that’s the white/blue fuzz, people) is a loser. Unless it’s a teeny spot (in which case you want to remove at least that half of the tomato), anything fuzzy should be forsaken.
De-stemming & peeling
Put a lot of water on to boil (I mean the kettle or jug) if you want to peel the tomatoes. Using a small, sharp knife, cut deep a square around the stem and pull it out. Throw the tomatoes in a pot large enough to fit them all, pour over the boiling water, and let sit for about 10-20 seconds, until you can see the skin starts to peel away from the tomato at the edges where you’ve de-seeded. Pour out the hot water (or into any of your dishes that need a quick soaking), and peel the tomatoes (you should be able to just pinch the non-stem end and the whole thing usually comes off) if you want.
Put the tomatoes back in the pot, add a small splash of water, and cover, turning heat to medium. Bring to a quick boil, uncover, and turn heat down to the lowest setting possible. If you want chopped/pureed tomatoes, chop them up in the pan with a knife or mush them up with a potato masher/fork at this point (it’ll be a lot easier now). Let sit partially covered for about an hour, coming back to stir every 20 minutes or so. If you notice the mixture if still watery when you come back to stir, leave the pot totally uncovered. Basically you want to cook everything until it’s a deeper red, and things have thickened up (initially the mixture will look watery and the tomatoes will be orangey pink after you remove the skins), but make sure your tomatoes are being cooked at a bare simmer (or you’ll cook all the good stuff, including the flavour, out of them!). Once you decide they’re a good consistency, let sit on the element uncovered to cool, throwing in any extra things to make sauce (see below).
If you like, you can boost the natural flavour and look of your tomatoes, by adding any combination of the following when you begin cooking:
Splash of red wine vinegar – ups the sourness and helps the tomatoes go more of a crimson colour
Pinches of paprika – boosts red colour
Sea Salt - sea salt won’t make a tinny taste, and will bring out a bit of the natural flavours of the tomato
Pinch of sugar – complements the natural sweetness of your tomatoes
If you want to make a sauce straight from the get go (like pasta sauce), you can throw any combination of the following suggestions in:
Pre-sauteed chopped onions, shallots, or garlic
Finely grated parmesan (add at end of cooking, and not too much)
Herbs such as oregano, basil, sage, chives, garlic chives… (add fresh ones at the end of cooking)
Spices such as cumin (to add smokiness), garam masala or curry powder (to add an Indian twist), or chilli/cayenne (to add heat)
Pre-sauteed chopped or halved mushrooms (add at the end of cooking)
Pre-seared/roasted/grilled capsicum/peppers (add at the end of cooking)
Sour cream/cream cheese/riccotta/mascarpones/splash cream (less if more with this one, start with a teaspoon with solids and a Tablespoon with cream, and add in the last 5 minutes of cooking)
Butter (just a teaspoon-sized knob, add at the end of cooking)
Extra virgin olive oil (do not process it, just stir in gently, and add at the end of cooking)
Chopped or whole olives (de-pitted, either by you or the factory. Add at the end of cooking)
Feta cubes (to top, best not mixed in)
Chopped cooked spinach (add at the end, defrosted if using frozen)
Comment with more ideas!