The last of the tomatoes are ripening on the vine. Many more are currently ripening on the ground after a spate of blustery weather, and it takes a Herculean effort on my part to pick them this morning, as it is not just the harvesting but the promise of preparation implicit in the gathering that makes me wonder if it might not be better to wait until tomorrow.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. I roll the thought around as I heft the large hog wire cages back into upright positions, think better of it and let them fall again against wet leaves and spent soil. These poor players have had their hour upon the stage, and we are within minutes of the season drawing to a close. Already my thoughts are turning to woodland mushrooms, beef and venison pie, and guilty slices of warm apple pie for breakfast.
Fall is here.
And yet, so are these tomatoes. My conscience will not let me ignore them. Chances are, neither will yours. Here are three quick things to do with this last harvest that can assuage that conscience with minimum effort and maximum enjoyment. If you’ve got a food processor, the effort is almost less than minimal.
Roasted tomatoes for the freezer
If those bushel baskets are overflowing, this is an easy way of processing the harvest without ever figuring out how to seal a canning jar. They will last in the freezer for up to a year and you can use them wherever you want a bit of homegrown tomato flavor.
Grab your overflowing baskets. Find something riveting on television, or at the very least, marginally entertaining. Cut tomatoes in half, squeeze out and discard extra seeds and juice, and lay them on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. When you’re finished, finely chop a couple garlic cloves together with some thyme and oregano and any other herb you have in the garden that you think will taste good with winter tomato dishes. Add some olive oil, salt, pepper and a little bit of balsamic vinegar and perhaps a tsp of sugar (as if you are making a salad dressing).
Drizzle the herb mixture over the tomatoes and place in a 300 degree oven. Roast them slowly to concentrate flavor – about an hour and a half. Let them cool then seal into Ziploc bags (ah the miracle of petroleum products!), and freeze.
One last batch of fresh tomato salsa
Just one more dripping, flavor-drenched, healthy bowl – one more to keep us going over the next eight months. If you’ve never made salsa before, I’m sorry that you’re coming to this at the end of the season, for you’re liable to be bitter over all that you’ve missed.
Using the blade of your food processor, or a bit of wrist action and a good chef’s knife, finely chop two cloves of garlic, a jalapeno pepper, and a handful of cilantro leaves. Add the juice from half a lime and a few twists of the pepper grinder.
Cut seven or eight tomatoes into quarters then put them in the food processor bowl to be chopped coarsely. Just keep chopping if you’ve only got a knife. Stop briefly to put a food processor on your Christmas list.
Once you’ve achieved the texture you desire, it’s time for the magic ingredient: Salt.
Salt is what makes those flavors sparkle – and you’ll need more than you think. Start slowly, but if you over-add, chop a few more tomatoes and you’ll be fine. Nothing beats fresh yummy salsa with a crisp bag of corn chips. If you feel like splurging, go with Xochitl, but be warned, it’s hard to go back. Start saving your pennies for next summer’s snacking.
Tomato pesto pasta
This is a quick, no cook recipe (says she, pulling out the Cuisinart one last time) given to me by a Dutch friend one July long ago. She loved my tomatoes but tired of having fresh salsa forced down her throat every evening and told me there was more to pesto than armfuls of basil.
Very finely chop (by hand or by machine), a half a cup of almonds that you have ‘roasted’ in the microwave for two minutes. Add two cloves of garlic, a handful of basil and a half cup of shredded parmesan and process until finely chopped.
Now add tomato quarters as you might have done for the salsa and chop until fine, adding a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and perhaps a quarter cup of olive oil to achieve the consistency you’d like. Salt and pepper to taste. You should have a coarse, flavorful sauce to pour over a steaming plate of pasta. I like to brown butter and toss the pasta in that before it is topped with the pesto.
There you have it. Three delicious ways to soothe the conscience and one big ticket item for the Christmas list this year. Hurry up. This brief candle is almost out. -MW