This is the time of year when a food lovers thoughts turn to apples, potatoes, roast pork and gorgeous winter squashes. After all, Fall starts tomorrow and all the food magazines are publishing gorgeous spreads of food featuring hearty autumn fair. It's time to make rich stews and bake apple pies and snuggle up with your significant other in thick cable knit sweaters in front of a roaring fire.
If I tried snuggling in front of an roaring fire right now, I'd pass out from heatstroke. I live in Tennessee and while the temperatures have cooled down some, days in the low to mid 80s and evenings in the low to mid 60s don't exactly cry out for chili. In fact, right now is when our gardens tend to be producing the most. If our plants have survived the dog days of summer, the cooler temperatures are encouraging our tomatoes to actually set fruit. And the lack of high 90 degree heat actually encourages me to get back outside and reclaim the garden I gave up a few weeks ago. The peppers are full of blossoms and the second crop of cucumbers and squash I planted are starting to set fruit.
Even when the leaves have turned, it doesn't mean our gardens stop producing. I get tomatoes well into October and I've even heard tales of some crazy people (present company excluded of course) who have draped their tomatoes with plastic clamped together with large binder clamps and managed to keep their tomatoes going well into November.
The farmers markets are still full of summer produce. You can find everything from okra to watermelon. Peppers are still in abundance and the only thing that seems to be in scarce supply are cucumbers and summer tree fruits. Apples are available and sweet potatoes and winter squash are starting to appear. Jerry's got new cornmeal and sweet Fall broccoli will appear in a few weeks.
September is the month I really focus on getting a lot of foods preserved and put up for the coming winter. I don't have air conditioning in my kitchen and although I do have to attempt some canning in August, standing over a steaming kettle is not my favorite thing to do when it's blazing out. I end up freezing a lot of tomatoes whole and dealing with them when it's a little cooler.
My favorite way to use those tomatoes that are piling up in the freezer is in Roasted Tomato Sauce. It's a great way to take a mountain of produce and reduce it into a concentrated sauce that's my favorite pasta sauce in the whole world. I pressure can mine but it also freezes well. The long cooking concentrates the flavors and caramelizes all the wonderful sugars in this sauce. My husband has been known to can it himself because he says if I do it, I end up eating half of it before it's even canned.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to run Office Depot for some (cough, cough) office supplies. I hear the binder clips are on sale and everyone can always use more binder clips, right?
Roasted Tomato Sauce
First off - you need to understand that this recipe is very flexible. None of these quantities are set in stone. If you have tons of red peppers, use them! If you want a sauce with a lot of garlic flavor, add lots of extra garlic. You're also going to need to be flexible with time. If you start out with frozen tomatoes, it will obviously take longer. If I have a lot of tomatoes, as the sauce cooks down, I add in more frozen tomatoes to make more sauce. This slows down the cooking process as well.
Heat your oven to 425 degrees. I take a large baking or roasting pan and fill it full of tomatoes. Some of these are fresh and some of them are tomatoes that I threw in the freezer to deal with later. I added three onions that were peeled and quartered, a few sweet red peppers that I seeded and cut in half, four Big Bomb hot peppers that were seeded and approximately 25 cloves of garlic - separate the cloves but you don't need to peel these. Then drizzle on 1/4 cup of olive oil. Put it in the oven.
This batch contained 10 pounds of tomatoes:
As you can see, the skins are getting very brown. Keep stirring every 30 minutes. This sauce is going to reduce quite a bit. Those ten pounds of tomatoes and other vegetables ended up reducing to about five cups once it's been pureed. When it's done, it will look like this:
As you can see, there's very little juice in the bottom of the pan. I cooked the above pan of sauce for 4 1/2 hours. Let the pan cool for about 30 minutes or until you can handle it without burning yourself. You want to put it all through a food mill on the finest setting. This will take all the seeds and skins out of your sauce and puree all the vegetables together. Once you've put it through the food mill, make sure to stir the sauce thoroughly. If you don't have a food mill, you could use a fine sieve and press it through.
The sauce you've just made is very concentrated. For two servings of pasta, we usually use around a 1/4 cup of sauce, diluted with pasta water.
Now that you have this stuff, what do you do with it?
- Toss with pasta and some of the pasta water to thin it out a bit and serve.
- Saute some eggplant, red peppers and zucchini until done. Add sauce and thin with pasta water.
- Thin it out with a little bit of milk or cream.
- Thin it out with red wine and add some more herbs to it.
- Soak some diced, sun-dried tomatoes (I use ones I've marinated before drying) in a half cup of hot whole milk. Puree in the blender and add to roasted tomato sauce.
- Puree it with a little bit of canned tomato and use it as a pizza sauce. Or just thin with a little bit of water and use as a pizza sauce.
I pressure can my sauce in quarter pint jars. This is not a tested recipe so I don't recommend following my example but I follow the recipe for pressure canning meat sauce in the Ball Blue Book. This sauce cooks down so much that freezing is much simpler to do. I just tend to have stuffed freezers this time of year so I can it to save room.