Hi Everyone, I’m seeing red, but I’m not angry. On the contrary, I am quite delighted. Tomatoes are in season (here in Barbados) and selling for only one dollar per pound! Every week for the past 3 weeks I have been buying 5 to 6 pounds each week. Sounds like a lot to buy each week doesn’t it? It is. Want to know what I’m doing with all those tomatoes? Read on.
I’ve been preserving my tomatoes for pasta, pizza, salsas, stews and Mexican Rice among other things. I’ve been making choka, chutney, jam, salads and sauces too. You too can preserve tomatoes when in season. Let me tell you how.
In order to prepare the tomatoes for preservation you can roast them over an open flame and in an oven. Or, you can steam the tomatoes. Drying is also an option for preservation. The fire-roasted version will give you a nice smoky flavour. Tomatoes roasted in an oven can be infused with garlic and fresh herbs such as thyme, marjoram, basil and rosemary. Steamed, remove the skins and store the tomatoes. Dried, the tomatoes can be packed in oil or salt and refrigerated.
Roasted and charred on a stovetop or grill, the tomatoes are peeled and stored whole, chopped or pureed. Roasted in the oven, the herbs are removed (they have done their work), the garlic peeled and the tomatoes stored as is, with its juices and whole cloves of garlic, or pureed and then bottled. Steamed, you can store the tomatoes whole or chopped. The tomatoes once cooked and stored in sterilized glass jars will last for more than a month in the refrigerator. Secured in zip plastic bags or airtight containers, they will last for at least a year in the freezer. Use these preserved tomatoes the same way you would use canned tomatoes. Dried tomatoes are rehydrated and can be added to sauces and salads. Finely minced, make flavoured breads and rolls.
Turn your tomatoes into a different state of preservation when you make jam and chutneys. These are tomato-condiments that will have you licking the spoon. The chutney, cooked with spices and to the consistency of softened butter, will have you dabbing it on bread and biscuits, and dipping into it with veggies such as celery sticks, carrots and cucumbers. It could (it has on occasions in my case) replace the mayo in your sandwich. You can eat it with plain rice or roti too. One time I served it with hot cassavas puffs, it was an instant hit.
The tomato jam is pure sophistication, it is sweet and spicy (with heat and flavour) with a gentle hint of tartness that awakens the palette. It is at once sweet and savoury. The tomato jam can be smeared on bagels, biscuits and bread. It pairs well with cheddar and mild cheeses.
Used fresh, tomatoes make for simple but tasty salads, like this one: cut the tomatoes into thick slices, adorn with wafer-thin slices of red onions, lightly shower with a few grinds of fresh black pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt just before serving, In your mouth the tomatoes will give easily, melting softly, yielding their juices. The salt dancing across your tongue as you enjoy the delicate crunch of the onions. Oh yes, you want another slice and another.
Another way to use the tomatoes fresh is to chop them up into tiny pieces, season with salt and pepper, add to a bowl along with some finely diced red or white onions, minced parsley, cilantro or basil, mix and leave to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Spoon the mixture on top of crusty toast along with a little of the juice. Yum. The Italians call it bruschetta.
Buying and storing
With tomatoes in such abundance, unless you plan to use all of your tomatoes at the same time or within a couple of days, buy them in varying stages of ripeness. Get them green, just starting to ripen (yellow), a little more ripe (orange) and ripe (red).
When you bring the tomatoes home, do not put them into a refrigerator. The un-ripened tomatoes in particular need to be kept at room temperature so that they can mature, putting them in the refrigerator would stagnate the process and they will never truly ripen. Put them in a basket or something in which air circulates freely, all around the tomatoes; do not cover them either. Place the tomatoes stem-side up, the same position that they grow on the vines.
If you bought already ripened tomatoes and you are not consuming them within 1 to 3 days, transfer them to the refrigerator to preserve them. Leaving ripe tomatoes out at room temperature longer than 3 to 4 days will cause them to become over-ripe and soft, ooze and will eventually start to rot.
When purchasing tomatoes, the skin, regardless of the stage – green, yellow, orange or red – should be smooth and shiny. Tomatoes should feel heavy for their weight – it means that they are fresh and juicy. Select tomatoes by picking them up and gently running your fingers over them, they should be firm to the touch, any soft spots would be quickly felt. Do not squeeze the tomatoes. Place your tomatoes at the top of your shopping bag to avoid them being squeezed, squashed or bruised.
Try as I might, I know I won’t be able to resist buying more tomatoes this weekend.
Vegetable or any neutral tasting oil
Ground black pepper (preferably freshly ground)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Rinse and pat dry the tomatoes.
Transfer to an ovenproof dish and place in a single layer.
Generously drizzle with oil and rub tomatoes to coat all over with the oil.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper; don’t be shy, both ingredients act as natural preservatives.
Transfer to oven and roast for 45 minutes or until the skin of the tomatoes are wrinkled and a knife inserts easily into the tomatoes.
Remove from oven and let cool until you can handle. Meanwhile, sterilize a couple of glass jars (depending on the quantity of tomatoes you roasted).
With clean hands, remove the skin of the tomatoes and add the pulp to a large bowl. Pour the remaining juice through a sieve into the bowl with the tomatoes. Fill the jars with tomatoes and juice, cool completely before covering. Refrigerate.
Use as you would canned tomatoes.
To make flavoured roast tomatoes add garlic, fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, tarragon, basil, oregano and marjoram to the tomatoes at direction # 4. You can add as much or as little of the herbs as you like, garlic too. Do not peel the garlic, remove only the excess paper skin and add it whole our cut the head of garlic in half.
Discard the herbs when strained (direction # 8).
At direction # 8 you can puree the tomatoes and juice before adding to sterilized jars.
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 ½ teaspoons black/brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin/jeera seeds
½ cup diced onions
4 large cloves garlic, minced
Minced hot pepper to taste
1 pound half ripe tomatoes cut into chunks (turning from orange to red)
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
2 level teaspoons sugar
Salt to taste
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan or karahi.
Add 1 teaspoon mustard seeds and when they begin to pop, add cumin/jeera and fry for 30 seconds.
Add onions and garlic, reduce heat to medium and cook for 1 minute
Add tomatoes, ginger, cilantro and stir, mixing with the fried spices, onions and garlic. Turn back heat to high and let cook until the tomatoes have broken down and there’s not a lot of liquid in the pan.
Stir in sugar and add salt to taste. Cook for 1 minute and remove from heat.
Add the mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth then transfer to a bowl.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a metal ladle on open gas flame, add remaining mustard seeds; as soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop remove from heat and immediately pour over the chutney. Give the chutney a good stir to mix everything.
Serve as a dip, spread or with rice or roti.