Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Help! What shall I do with all these tomatoes?

And make it easy for me, please!
       So many nice tomatoes — what shall I do with them? Occasionally in the past, I simply, washed, cored, and bagged them whole in the freezer. This was fast, but it took lots of freezer space and left the peelings, hard inner cores, and juice intact. I only used them for chili or soup. Even after running them in a food processor, I found myself picking out obnoxious tough peels that weren’t chopped.
            In recent years, I make tomato sauce. Fresh tomatoes make a lively tart sauce not found in store-bought canned sauce, and it’s quite a money-saver over a year’s time. Prep time is a little more but well worth it. And I've discovered that a slow cooker makes the last step easier -- no more bending over to see and stir in the oven!
            Before making sauce, you will need to decide on a method and whether you want the sauce seasoned or not.
            Method and equipment:     The method to use depends on the smoothness of sauce you like and also on the equipment you have or are willing to buy. If you like a smooth sauce without seeds, pulp, or peel, the best equipment would be a pulp mill or a colander.
            If you want a textured sauce where some seeds and bits of pulp are okay, then you can choose the boiling water bath method for removing peels and a small knife for removing part of the seeds and core. This is the method I use. Check these websites below for clear photos and instructions for the boiling water bath method and seed removal.

            Finally, you will also need a slow cooker or an oven and shallow rimmed pans for cooking and thickening the sauce.

            Seasoned or unseasoned? If you season the sauce, the recommended time for freezer storage is only 3 months due to the possibility of flavor changes. If you don’t add seasonings, the flavor will stay true in the freezer for a year or more, but you will need to add seasoning as you use it in recipes. I don’t season tomato sauce for freezing, partly because I like to add different spices and herbs for lasagna, spaghetti, chili, and pizza sauce, or casseroles.
Preparation: · Check your freezer space and buy freezer bags or other containers. Gather the needed equipment. If you’re doing the hot water bath method, check out the websites listed above which list equipment needed for peeling and seeding.

 Instructions:  1. Select and wash tomatoes. If you have a variety of tomato types, choose about one-half paste type such as Roma or Amish Paste. They have more pulp, fewer seeds, less acid, but a flatter taste. For the remainder, choose regular slicing type tomatoes. They burst with lively flavor but have more seeds and cores. The tomatoes should be fully ripe for best flavor.

Regular slicing

2.   If using a colander or food mill: Cut and core tomatoes. Follow directions with your equipment to make a sauce. If you plan to season the sauce, measure the amount of sauce. (See spaghetti sauce seasoning suggestion at end of this article.) 

     If using the water bath method: Cut an X through the skin on bottom of each tomato. Carefully lower tomatoes one by one into boiling water and leave for about 20 seconds. Remove and dip in ice water. With a knife, pull off peel. Core, removing extra seeds if desired. Puree with a food processor. If you plan to season the sauce, measure the amount of sauce. (See spaghetti sauce seasoning at end of this article.) 

3. Cook the sauce: Pour puree into the slow cooker or rimmed shallow pans. Heat slow cooker on high, or oven to 300. Cook uncovered, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula every 30 minutes. Continue cooking until puree thickens similar to purchased tomato sauce. This may take 3 to 10 hours, depending on the thinness of the puree at start-up.  

Cooked, thickened

4. Bag and freeze: Label bags or containers before filling. A canning funnel makes filling easier. Place an amount in the bags that you often use in recipes. Note: When I am short on tomatoes, I put only one cup in each bag. This can be mixed with purchased canned sauce to perk up canned sauce flavor.

Handy Tip: To speed the thickening process, heat the puree in the microwave, then pour into your slow cooker or oven pans. CAUTION: If using a slow cooker, microwave only to "warm" to avoid cracking the slow cooker. 

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