Shifting Gears: A Cook Lets Her Garden Take Her from one Season to Another
Here we go, again. The end of another summer. This morning the air felt positively chilly and the lawn is scattered with curling, slightly brown leaves from the large catalpa tree that graces the south side of our house. Like most Americans I spent the weekend grilling. Unlike most Americans I am working on a cookbook about grilling and trying all kinds of unexpected combinations.
Last night some friends stopped by and I grilled a pizza (using store-bought pizza dough), stuffed fresh figs with blue cheese and wrapped them in proscuitto and grilled them just until the cheese began to ooze, marinated a swordfish steak with lemon, olive oil, and fresh herbs, grilled it and then topped with an olive salad. No burgers or hot dogs, but as I drove around yesterday I could smell those primal scents wafting from nearly every backyard I passed. I had plain-old-normal American barbecue envy.
Tomorrow the school buses will make their way down the street for the first day of the year. My daughter, a senior in high school, will drive to school. Next year the house will be empty and I’m wondering what it will feel like. I’m guessing it will be something like a stew of melancholy and excitement. A pie of sweet and sour. A salad of sweet, tender leaves and bitter, coarse ones.
This time of year, the shifting of carefree and warm days, to structured and cool ones always leaves me a bit anxious. So this week I will do what I always do when moods stir me in directions I might not want to go: I will cook. The tomatoes are dripping from the vines, crying out for me to cook them before they rot. I will roast up a huge batch of tomato sauce (yes, roast!) and then pop bags of sauce into the freezer to bring out on a cold, dark day when it will brighten my world. I will can some local peaches with a friend, so there is sweetness to be had in late January. I will pick some of the gorgeous peppers in my garden, a hue of bright green, red, yellow and something close to maroon, and stuff them with ground lamb and cinnamon and rice and save them for a night later in the year. The chopping, the stirring, the scent of garden tomatoes, fresh basil, and pungent garlic will help this cook shift from one season into another.
End-of-the-Season Roasted Tomato Sauce
Roasting at a high temperature gives tomatoes a rich, slightly smoky flavor, and onions and garlic become sweet as they caramelize. For those that have a fear of canning, this is a no-fail tomato sauce that can be popped into the freezer or canned, depending on your time and preference.
The sauce can be refrigerated for three to five days, or it can be frozen in a tightly wrapped plastic bag for several months. The sauce can also be placed in sterilized Mason jars and processed (20 minutes in a boiling water bath should do it); it will keep for up to 10 months.
Toss the sauce with pasta, or serve it over grilled chicken or fish, or in any dish that calls for regular tomato sauce. You can cut the recipe in half or make a huge batch, all depending on how many tomatoes you have. Feel free to add pitted olives, drained capers, chopped sweet or hot peppers, anchovies, or any other fresh herbs you have in the garden.
About 8 pounds ripe tomatoes, any variety, cored and quartered
10 medium onions, peeled and quartered
10 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, and/or chives)
About ¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Generous grinding of black pepper
A few tablespoons sugar (optional)
Makes about 10 cups.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
In a large roasting pan, gently toss together the tomatoes, onions, whole and chopped garlic, herbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes. Gently stir the vegetables. Roast for another 25 minutes and gently toss. Add any of the optional ingredients listed above and roast for another 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes are softened and somewhat broken down into a sauce, with a golden brown crust on top. Remove and taste for seasoning. If the sauce tastes bitter, add a few tablespoons of the sugar.
Let cool and place in clean, sterile jars or tightly sealed plastic bags, and refrigerate, freeze, or can. Makes about 10 cups.