Posted by: A Part of the Solution | August 12, 2010

Too Many Ripe Tomatoes

Too many ripe tomatoes in the late summer time is not an uncommon problem. These summer delights are readily found at Farmers’ Markets at the end of the day. Make the farmer an offer, no one wants to carry back  the produce they brought so far already. Take the soft ones, the split ones, the oozing ones, the wormy ones. These are just the ripe tomatoes you want. And it’s only too many ripe tomatoes if you don’t know what to do with them.

Start a medium sized pot of water boiling when you get back to your kitchen. Dip the large tomatoes in for thirty seconds. Dip the mediums for 20 seconds, or fifteen if they’re nearly small. Let the cherry tomatoes have ten seconds in the boiling water. Now the skins of the tomatoes have been loosened, they can easily be peeled. If you really do have nearly too many ripe tomatoes, this job goes faster with the help of a friend.

Open up one of your peeled, ripe tomatoes. Let the seeds and their surrounding goop drain into a mesh colander. The seeds can be composted, but the tomato water is great to save in ice cube trays. You can add it to soups and stews and stocks and any braised dish that might benefit from the extra caramelizing agency of tomato water (or the sweet/acid accent it provides). Chop the meat of the tomato roughly. Do this with all the tomatoes.

Here are two options. Put the fresh chopped tomatoes in a zipper lock plastic bag so they’re only about one inch thick when the bag is lying on its side. Fill as many bags as you like this way. Place them in your freezer. Don’t forget to date the bags, so that you can keep track of when you want to use them (or which to use first if you do this with tomatoes at different times). Your second option is to cook the tomatoes down for a while. They won’t have that ‘fresh from the garden’ flavor when you use them, but they’ll be tastier than canned tomatoes, and their flavor and texture will be more concentrated than the raw concasseéd tomatoes.

You could even make tomato paste with the cooked down tomatoes. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the tomatoes, after carefully cooking them over low heat ’til they lose half their original volume (then measure that volume and add a tablespoon of salt and a quarter cup of olive oil for every 4 cups of tomato–stirring well in), evenly on the baking sheet. Put them in the oven for eight hours at 250°F. You want a paste almost like a thick fruit leather, not the glop you find in cans. If the tomatoes need more time, throw them back into that slow oven. When the paste is completely dessicated, you can store it wrapped in wax paper and then sealed in aluminum foil. It doesn’t need refrigeration, since the acids and sugars in the fresh tomato are so concentrated in the paste. The salt and oil only further promote the keeping power of your tomato paste..

Now you’re preserving food the old fashioned way: you’re drying it out so that it keeps nearly indefinitely. Cut off a small chunk whenever you need tomato paste. It will have divine flavor and add amazing depth to your recipes through the winter.

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