Bumper crops

Flash in the Pan

Q: Last year you published a recipe for oven-roasted tomato sauce. I made it with my homegrown tomatoes and it was the best sauce I have ever tasted.

Unfortunately, I have misplaced the recipe. Could you send it my way?

Thanks for all your food and garden wisdom.


A: Dear Karen,

It must be tomato season. Your letter arrived on the very day that Wrathful Steve, a pissy old farmer with a heart of gold, gave me a box of sungold tomatoes he had left over at the end of market. These cherry tomatoes are ripe when orange, and are one of the tastiest varieties of tomato you’ll ever find. These particular specimens were so ripe there wasn’t a chance they’d last until the next market, so Wrathful Steve just gave them to me.

Such is the blessing and the curse of my job. I attract food. Then I’m a slave to food. It took two hours to pull the little green stems off each cherry tomato. I oven roasted them uncut with olive oil, salt, whole cloves of garlic, slabs of onion, sprigs of tarragon and basil (rosemary is another good herb here). After 4–6 hours at 250-300 degrees, stirring often and never letting it burn, all the non-tomato entities disappeared. Meanwhile, much of the water had cooked off, leaving a thick sauce made thicker by all the little cherry tomato skins. I could have pureed it; chose not to; next time I might.

Anyway, you wanted to know what I wrote last year:

“Wash 10 pounds Roma tomatoes and cut out the ends and imperfections. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees until they collapse. Let them cool then pull off the skins, squeezing them to save the juice. Add 1 and one-half cups extra-virgin olive oil, one-half cup red wine vinegar, one-quarter cup roasted garlic, 2 tablespoons sea salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons sugar and, if possible, a splash or two of red wine. Puree, adjust the seasonings and simmer until reduced by 25 percent.”

(At this point in last year’s article I discussed how this sauce base could be used in a vinaigrette, an aioli, or a “Pink Vodka” sauce. Just in case you were writing about this Pink Vodka variation, here it is:

“Finally, for the Pink Vodka tomato sauce variation, sauté chopped red onion and garlic in olive oil and deglaze with vodka. Add some of the still-hot red sauce. Pour about one-third cup of this hot sauce into 1 cup heavy cream, stirring it around, to temper the cream, then add the tempered cream back to the sauce, which is now pink. Adjust seasonings to taste.”)

One thing to keep in mind while doing any of these variations is that tomato reacts with some metals, like iron or aluminum. So all this oven-roasting tomato business is best done in glass or ceramic ovenware.

And if you are experimenting, consider dividing your tomatoes among several vessels, and play with herbs, spices, vegetables, roasting time, peeling the tomatoes, pureeing the sauce, etc.

With herbs, especially strong flavored ones like tarragon and rosemary, consider using whole sprigs. That way, if you taste your sauce and decide there’s enough of that particular herb’s flavor, you can pull the sprig.

Q: Dear Chef Boy,

I’ve got the beet blues. I planted a big load of beets this year—a mixed bag with red, gold and other…and now, what to do with all these beets? I’ve gotten some advice on steaming little beet cubes to be used in salads and veggie medleys, or for my 8-month-old to eat. I’ve also seen something on grilling, then peeling…but what else is there?

—Beets me

A: Dear BM,

I was going to suggest pickled beets. They taste great and will store all winter long—unless of course they are eaten. Remember, pickling involves lots of hot water and can really heat up a kitchen. So during summer months I suggest pickling early in the morning, or late at night, when you can open the windows and let in the cool air.

Clean the beets, leaving the taproot and two inches of stem, and boil. When tender, drain the beets and let them cool. When they’re cool enough to touch, slip the skins off. Cut off taproots.

Cut beets into the shape you want, perhaps slices, or quarters for medium-sized beets. Small beets can be left whole. Or cut them into cubes, rhombic dodecahedrons, frolicking mermaids, whatever.

If you’ve never pickled before, buy some canning jars and lids and read the directions that come with them. That information will help you follow my directions.

Before you pack your beets, add a teaspoon of salt to each pint (or 2 t per quart). Then pack beets into clean, sterile jars, making sure to leave at least one-half inch of “head space” between the top of the beets and the rim of the jar.

In a pot, mix a brine of equal parts water and cider vinegar, with one cup of sugar for every 3 cups of brine. (You can use more or less sugar, as you wish.) Heat this until it just starts to boil, then remove heat.

You may wish to add pickling spices, or a mixture of equal parts allspice, cloves, and cinnamon—the so-called “pickled beet spices.” Like sugar, these spices are up to your own taste. But remember, you want a pretty potent brine here, to counteract the potency of the beets.

Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Wait at least 8 weeks before opening.