building your real food pantry: plan for a tomato workhorse you can count on

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Fresh from my garden tomatoes, onion and garlic ready for oven-roasting

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For a girl forever bawking about eating what’s in season, you might think what I’m about to share with you is a little out of whack.  Originally, like everyone else, I thought this would be a good topic for later in summer when tomatoes are front and center.

But recently, while writing this for A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa, it struck me that now actually is the perfect time to talk about putting up tomatoes.

What?

I’m not kidding. Now is the time to start planning what you’re going to grow in your garden and/or how much preserving you need to do to fill your pantry with the basics you’ll need for the following 12 months.

If I wait to talk about it until you’re drowning in tomatoes,  I’ll be too late to be much help.

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A staple in my kitchen – tomato passata. like puree, only better

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Over the years, I’ve pared down my pantry needs to actual needs rather than whimsical wants.

I used to can cooked sauce, whole tomatoes and other more specific items like salsa or ketchup. Each pantry item involved a sweaty day in the kitchen and its own set of ingredients & procedures.

Now don’t get me wrong; I actually love that sweaty day spent in the kitchen. But today, I prefer one  multi-purpose workhorse item like this versatile recipe for tomato passata, rather than several specific items like different sauces & salsa.

What’s a workhorse recipe?

  • Seasoned as little as possible to let the flavor of the ingredient shine and for greatest kitchen versatility later.
  • Useful in a variety of ways and with little meal-time fussery. I still want to be able to cook super-fast from jars and cans – you know, the American way.  I just want my jars and cans to be ones I filled myself with ingredients I feel good about.
  • A flexible preserving process.  I often interrupt in the middle if necessary, break things up into 2 sessions and/or scale it up.  I need a recipe that’s not too persnickety.

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Home-made sauce in a jif, quickie childhood favorite cream of tomato soup with no processed ingredients and my very favorite ketchup

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Tomato passata is a recipe from my tattered and stained favorite River Cottage Handbook #2; Preserves.  The author, Pam Corbin, makes  passata to use as a base for all sorts of soups, stews and curries. Check it out here. 

I admit I had no clue what passata was, but now I wonder how I ever lived without it.  This one simple to make item is all I need to make a few of my often served favorites:

The beauty of making my ketchup from passata is that I can do it later in the season when the kitchen’s not so hot and I don’t have so many other pressing projects competing for my time. Plus, I’ve already done half the work, so it hardly takes any time at all.

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Holy-wow do I like this ketchup…

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Being the heirloom/heritage breed type, I grow my own, so it’s time to order your seeds to be sure to get the varieties you want and be sure to get the seeds started on time. How many plants will I need to make enough passata for the year?

I use about one quart of passata every two weeks, so I’ll need about 26 quarts. Each quart uses approximately 4 ½ pounds of fresh tomatoes, and a good heirloom variety tomato plant in Pennsylvania can yield approximately 9 pounds give or take. There will be some fudgery at first since everyone’s experience will vary, but this is a good place to start.

So, to keep me in passata for a year, here’s my tomato math:

26 (quarts of passata) x 4.5 (pounds of tomatoes needed for 1 quart) = 117 pounds of tomatoes.

117 (pounds of tomatoes) ÷ 9 (estimated pounds yielded per plant in my area) = 13 plants.

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Now, calculate the same way for your canned whole tomato needs then round-up to be sure to have plenty of fresh eating tomatoes and for sharing with your non-gardening friends.

I like to have at least 20 plants minimum for my two person household, though I’ve been known to attempt as many as 40.

Now, maybe the growing part is not for you, and I’m not here to tell you any different, although I admit I wish you’d consider it. Farmer’s markets are full of farmers growing all sorts of heirlooms and organics. If you belong to a CSA you probably get swamped with tomatoes in the summer, or maybe you have a great grocery selling locally grown produce.

No? Well, you can fix that by finding a local grower here.

Okay, you have no excuse for not at least trying this once, even if  just to say you did. I’m pretty confident once you get spoiled with a home-made pantry, you won’t want to go back to store-bought ever again.

What’s your  favorite tomato workhorse? 

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

spicy pumpkin bean soup

You can’t blame Pumpkin; it isn’t her fault. She wears out her welcome so soon with me every year not due to her own tiresomeness, but because people insist that fall Pumpkin must  be seasoned with sage, cinnamon & clove, brown sugar and holy sweet tooth – nuts and marshmallows.

‘Tis the season and all that jazz.

So, working my way through pumpkinpalooza 2012, I stumbled upon this recipe from Local Kitchen and my ears perked right up. Pumpkin & White Bean Ravioli. With not a micro-whiff of cinnamon or clove.

I needed another savory pumpkin recipe and this combination of roast pumpkin, white beans, leeks, garlic & fresh parsley was already inspired; add chèvre? Sold.

What I wasn’t sold on is the ravioli part. Oh, I don’t object in principle one bit – it’s an awesome idea.  I’m rejecting ravioli today on account of I’m not in the mood. For making it that is. Send some over and I’ll happily gobble it up, but making it is just too much fussery for me today. Today, I’m in need of quick & dirty, rough & ready. Delicious would be nice, but I’m prepared to do without today if I have to.

Every series of pumpkin posts has a creamy, spiced-up soup recipe or two –  I think it’s a law or something.  I have never, not once, never-ever made one single one of those fall soup recipes.  I am just not a fan of squash, pumpkin and/or curry soups.

I was prepared to be pretty happy with tolerable just so I could scratch it off the list… but the flavors in those ravioli were the kind that could make pumpkin soup something I might actually enjoy. So, I married the ravioli recipe to this this spicy white chili Kristen Swensson (of Cheap, Healthy, Good Blog fame) posted on Serious Eats. I’m feeling kind of hopeful…

Don’t you love it when you expect little to nothing and end up hitting the jackpot?  I really, really, really like this soup. I will be making it again – it is now part of my official winter soup rotation. Did I tell you I liked this soup?

I admit I did not expect this to be true, but pumpkin juice is a delicious and useful stock. I thought it was going to be too saccharine, but no. It has just the right amount of subtle, rich pumpkin flavor without any cloying sweetness. The roasted pepper and white beans were all the balance needed, and I tossed in a heel of Pecorino for good measure.

So, next time you find yourself in need of an idea for using up the liquid drained from the puree of 24 pumpkins, here you go.  You don’t have to thank me. And, if you don’t have the pumpkin juice, don’t worry. Chicken stock will be just as good. I promise I won’t ask you if you made it yourself…

The printable recipe is here.

Of course, you could just mix your pumpkin juice with bourbon and maple syrup instead and call it a happy day… you’ll have to invent that recipe yourself.

Be sure to come back and let us know how it goes…