I don’t have much time, or kitchen space for elaborate preserving projects anymore. So, I have to be really selective and spend my time making the one tomato-y thing that will be quick, flexible, but still remind me in the heart of January that the dark, frozen nights will again be soft and desk, with tomatoes, still warm from the garden. See, that connection to my own Pennsylvania summer is a real spirit lifter – one which canned tomatoes from the supermarket just cannot match.
Elimination thinking makes my decision super-easy; this uncooked tomato sauce, straight from the freezer tastes exactly like summer, is compact and efficient to store in my freezer, and quick and easy to use in lots of ways later.
Before beginning, I’d like to make this one plea: Resist the urge to chef this one up until you’ve made it once exactly as it is. Yes, it’s a VERY simple, plain recipe, but therein lies the charm. The simplicity allows the special summertime quality of the tomatoes to shine which is exactly why I love it so much. You can add herbs and spices when you use it later if you wish. Oh, and this sauce plain is beautiful with fresh mozzarella… and allows a bit of good olive oil to really shine.
Here’s a link to the more specific recipe. It makes four servings to be eaten right away but to preserve larger quantities for freezing, simply repeat as many times as you like ( I just figure out how many pounds of tomatoes I have and work it backwards), throw the milled batches together into one large colander, drain over a large bucket then freeze the concentrated sauce in single serving portions.
For me, one cup portions in freezer bags is the perfect size. One cup feeds two with plenty of leftovers for the next few days. Looking at the chicken scratch I wrote on my recipe, apparently I used 24 pounds of tomatoes last year and today I know it was not nearly enough. A word of warning: a little of this sauce goes a long way. I use 2 or 3 Tablespoons to dress a serving of pasta. Really.
Fill your freezer bags, squeeze out any air, and stack flat on a baking sheet or plate to freeze. Onse frozen stiff, the packages can be stacked upright in a container, and are easy to see and access in your freezer, and take little space.
Because you are straining away most of the water, the volume will be greatly reduced. I started with a nearly full 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes, and ended up with about 5 cups of sauce. This will vary based on the water content of the tomatoes and the amount of time you leave them drain.
Use your sauce to make summer-fresh Margarita pizzas, toss in the crock pot or dutch oven for a stew or braise, soup, with a pot of beans, anything that can use some fresh tomato flavor. Since the star of this project is the tomato, I wouln’t bother with thick walled, tough-skinned, weak flavored commodity varieties. This is meant as a celebration of the flavor of local, peak-of=freshness, sloppy, flavorful old-fashioned and heirloom varieties.
Also, when you’ve finished making this sauce, especially if you made a bunch for freezing, you’ll have lots of nutritious tomato essence (the water left after straining the tomato solids for the sauce) left.
- Base for Bloody Marys
- Braising liquid
- Reduction for intensely tomato flavored sauces
- Added flavoring for beer or vodka
- Base for gazpacho or cocktail sauce
- Poaching liquid for seafood, shrimp, calamari or lobster
- Dressing for fresh oysters
- Marinade for white fish
- Vinaigrette mix-in
- Liquid for cooking rice or grains
- Refreshing chilled beverage served over ice, with basil
Or, simply use it in place of any liquid next time you make stock, bread, rice, bulgur, barley or risotto. These are kitchen basics you know you’re going to do anyway, so why not add a little free flavor & nutrient booster?
The most complicated part of this approach is using a food mill if you have never used one. It makes for a really nice texture and removes the peel and seeds. A food mill is not necessary though, and this sauce will be just as tasty finely chopped by hand.
If you could only do one, what would your single tomato preserving project be?