It’s July, and finally our gardens and farmers’ markets are filled with ripe tomatoes — cherry tomatoes, heirlooms, Early Girls and more. Besides throwing them in salads (and eating them plain with a sprinkle of sea salt, of course) we’re putting them up to enjoy a taste of summer on chilly winter nights to come.
Tell us about your tomato canning traditions.
I usually do it with the last tomatoes of the season in September and October, after using so many fresh ones in the summer. Then we go crazy – we go on a picking spree.
What are the best varieties of tomatoes to can?
I like to use San Marzano-style tomatoes for canning because they’re fleshier. Plum tomatoes are really the best. Slicing tomatoes, like beefsteak, have less seeds, a lot of flavor, and are lower acid, but some of the varieties are so big. To get them in jars you have to cut them, so that adds to the processing time. We pickle our green tomatoes to make chutneys and top cheese.
Any tips for canning tomatoes?
I have a speedy process: I puree and strain the tomatoes so they’re not whole, and they are completely sauce-ready. If your goal is making sauce, just cut them in half and throw them in the blender; that’s the easiest way to do any tomato. The other way is to core and peel them. It’s more time-consuming, but it’s good if you have a chunkier tomato for a stew or a chunkier sauce.
I add minimal amount of salt, then heat the puree and put it into jars I’ve sterilized in the dishwasher. Then I heat up the lids and throw the tomatoes in the jars. If I’m keeping them for a long time, I hot water-process them in a stock pot — just cover with water and process for 40 minutes until the jars form a vacuum seal.
What are some of your favorite ways to use the tomatoes you’ve canned?
I use the pureed tomatoes for sauces, stews, soups, paella, stuffed cabbage, and Mexican rice. They’re great for barbecue sauces and glazes.
For the chunky tomatoes, I use them for lentil stew or Indian food. If I want to make a chunkier tomato sauce, I’ll use chunkier tomatoes. When braising beans or making a bean dish, I use whole tomatoes and just use my hands to break them up and take the seeds out.
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
5 large cloves garlic
3 qt. canned plum tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (1 oz./30 g.) firmly packed torn fresh basil leaves
Put the oil and garlic in a large saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the garlic is golden on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Core and quarter the tomatoes. Working in batches, puree the tomatoes in a blender until smooth, and then strain through a coarse-mesh sieve into the pan with the oil and garlic. (Alternatively, can the tomatoes as a puree.) Add the bay leaf, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.
Stir the basil into the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve over spaghetti or other pasta and grated Parmesan cheese.