comfort and tomatoes

Note: This post is not affiliated with Garrison Keillor’s recent Washington Post Op Ed about raising heirloom tomatoes, which — although entertaining — we did not read until right before pushing the “publish” button.


There is a lot that we are unsure of at the moment, but if there is one thing that remains true it is this: tomatoes have taken over our lives.

I know that’s not what you expected to hear, but I swear we’re drowning in them. We were overcome by them before the election, and we are still overcome by them after it.

And I think, in some small way, that one constant is something to take comfort in. That, and the collective exhale, whether teary or triumphant, of a nation ready to move forward. That needs to move forward no matter what the future brings.

We’re here to tell you tomatoes [at least symbolically] can help. Here’s how:

This week we were blessed with an abundance of produce. After officially tearing down our “tomato jungle” that had sustained us with beautiful bounty almost every single day these past few months, we found ourselves excited to can the crap out of all 50 pounds of San Marzanos before us.

tomato-jungle

Jason in the tomato jungle

cherry-tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes lookin’ all cute

We stared at our two massive bags of not-yet-ripe green tomatoes and countertop full of reds and thought: ‘Look at our harvest! Look at our hordes of fruit… grown, picked, and soon-to-be hoarded in our pantry.’

tomatoes

All 50 pounds — all for us!

But those of you who have been around us this past week know that this is very far from what actually happened.

The day after our gleeful selfishness, we awoke with the same thought lingering in the back of our minds, which boiled down to something like: ‘Crap. That’s a lot of tomatoes. Maybe we should share them.’

So share them we did. [Though always, admittedly, somewhat reluctantly].

At a happy hour potluck with friends, I brought a whole bowl of “explode in your mouth” cherry tomatoes as my contribution and simply left them behind at the end of the night. For a recent Inebriati gathering of home brewers, we conjured up a fresh caprese salad featuring all of the best fruits of the bunch. As comfort food for an anxious election night with family, we tried our hand at fried green tomatoes as an experiment in both patience and gluttony. When we found ourselves hosting a dinner party with some newly introduced friends this weekend [hi, Courtney & Zach!], we rolled up our sleeves and tag teamed to make a completely homemade lasagna with homemade ricotta, homemade pumpkin noodles, homegrown basil, and — you guessed it — homemade pasta sauce from our garden. [Note: the Italian sausage and spinach, did not, unfortunately, make it onto the “homemade” list.] And finally, whenever we had a planned or unexpected guest stop by, we made sure they took a treasure trove of tomatoes with them.

lasagna2

After all of the above, can you believe that we still had about 30 pounds of tomatoes still left??

We’re not tooting our horn of generosity here. Believe you me, most of our sharing stemmed from our laziness and cheapness and pure hatred of going to the grocery store. But what happened in the process was something altogether transformative.

By sharing, we felt better.

It’s not a revolutionary idea, but sharing tomatoes was the one thing we could control in the midst of the tumult and fear and uncertainty that plagued this entire week. We could give a part of our bounty, and in return, receive an abundance greater than any single tomato: a love between friends and family extending well beyond our political beliefs and powerlessness.

The moral of this story is: we are all blessed. In more ways than we can count. The things to be grateful for are as numerous as the fruit in our garden, but they are no good if you simply let them rot away on the vine. They’re meant to be shared — to be a sign of friendship, of compassion, of unity, and of understanding.

Life is short. Share love. Eat tomatoes. And make this tomato sauce.

It’s comforting, I promise.


lasagna

Tomato sauce

The beauty of this tomato sauce is that you can completely make it your own. You certainly don’t need 12 pounds of tomatoes, and you definitely don’t need to use the exact herbs and flavor profile we did. Everything is flexible based on your quantities in hand and your preference of flavor. I love lots of oregano in mine [mostly because my childhood Pizza Hut sauce obsession has forever influenced my palate], but making this completely plain without any additions would be incredibly yummy as well — especially if you have a batch of particularly delicious tomatoes. Whether you can it or freeze it [we did both], we vow that it will be a delightful addition to any pasta, lasagna, or bread dipping cravings you might have.

Ingredients

  • 12 lbs. tomatoes [You can use any amount, but 12 lbs. will produce 2 to 3 quarts of sauce]
  • Sage and oregano [Fresh if you’re willing to cook it longer, dried if you don’t have as much time. Fresh herbs release more water.]
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A hearty splash of red wine
  • Citric acid or lemon juice [For canning only]

Instructions

1. Prep your tomatoes by washing them and removing the ugly parts you wouldn’t want to eat. Cut small tomatoes in half, large tomatoes into quarters.

This is the point where many people might tell you to skin and seed your tomatoes. You can certainly do this if you are trying to achieve a finer sauce, but it is absolutely not necessary and saves oodles of time if you don’t. We’ve done it both ways and have been happy with the both results. But if you are absolutely intent on peeling them, here’s how you do it easily:

  • Cut an X on the bottom of your tomatoes.
  • Drop them in batches into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds.
  • Immediately transfer to ice water. The skins should come right off at the X.

2. Place tomatoes in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. [Do not add water! Fresh tomatoes will release enough water on their own.] Let boil for 2 to 3 hours.

3. Remove from the heat and blend the mixture together using either a hand immersion blender or in batches with a food processor. [Warning: do not wear white while doing this!]

4. Return to the stove once blended and add wine, herbs, salt, and bay leaves. Stir, cover, and let cook on medium heat for another 2 to 3 hours.

5. Remove the lid and continue cooking until the mixture has reduced by a third to a half, based on your thickness preferences. [According to Jason, the timing completely depends on the surface area of the pot, but you can expect this to take about an hour.] Once perfected, use immediately or store for future use.

6a. If freezing, simply let the sauce cool and place in sealed plastic bags or jars [being careful not to fill too full] and place in the freezer until prepared to use. It should keep for up to a year.

6b. If canning, prepare your jars by cleaning and boiling in a water bath. Once sanitized and before filling with tomato sauce, add citric acid to the jars — 1/4 tsp in each pint jar or 1/2 tsp in each quart jar. Bottled lemon juice can be used instead, adding 1 Tbs. to each pint jar or 2 Tbs. to each quart jar.

Ladle your hot tomato sauce into prepared jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles with a chopstick or spoon and clean the rims. Center warmed lids on the jar and screw bands on to be fingertip-tight.

Process jars in boiling water, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Boil and process pint jars for 35 minutes, or quart jars for 40 minutes. Remove jars, cool, and store.

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