save the tomatoes

#13 save the tomatoes

Good morning! Many of you will likely get this *twice* even if this is the *first one* you’re receiving. I am BAD at technology and all things technology related. The story of how this newsletter getting sent out incorrectly is boring and I will not bore you (with those details, anyway). Thanks for your patience, read on below to get bored by tomatoes!

One of my favorite September pastimes is rescuing produce on a downward trajectory and turning it into something wonderful. In spite of my limited fridge space, it’s still essentially a museum of fruits and vegetables from 2016-2020; jams, marmalades, fermented cabbages, and vinegars that I have no plans on immediately eating but refuse to throw away. Curious what the sour cherries in 2017 tasted like? Well, come over, take a trip to my fridge, and let’s find out.  

Anyway, this is NOT going to be a newsletter about The End of Summer Sads and how we use preserving as a coping mechanism to try and hold onto things that inevitably go away or die.

What I will say is: Hey, tomatoes won’t be around much longer, and roasting the last ones of summer in olive oil with some tiny onions and dried chiles is a great way to not feel so sad in three months when we’re all back inside wishing it was too hot to be outside. Similarly to The Only Pie Crust, this is not the first time I’ve written about these tomatoes, and I’d be lying if I said it was going to be the last.

As for which tomatoes, save the perfect perky ones with popsicle colored skins for salad or eating like an apple with salt. If you’re shopping at a farmers market, ask whoever is selling tomatoes if they have any imperfect ones — they don’t have to be “sauce” tomatoes (we aren’t making a sauce, although I guess you could), sometimes it’s the heirlooms that sit there all alone on the table at the end of the day, waiting to get picked up from school but nobody ever comes because our expectations of how produce should look are simply too high! (even some grocery stores will do this- I always ask because yes, I am my grandmother). 

I want my tomatoes for this practice a little bit ugly and possibly bruised. I want the ones that might taste a little fermented from being in the sun too long or the ones that got too much water and started splitting on their sides. I want to give these tomatoes a second life, love them, treat them right, and in return, let them love me back.

Remember, there is no such thing as “past their prime” tomatoes, only tomatoes looking forward to getting absolutely roasted.

HOW TO: SAVE THE TOMATOES

I find it best not to exceed four pounds of tomatoes in one dutch oven, but you can always do them in batches. I like to mix them up, sometimes stockpiling in my fridge (I know, NOT where tomatoes belong!) for when I have enough to roast altogether.

Don’t overthink the amounts of the rest of the ingredients here, but obviously it should be mostly tomatoes (although I have done an equal parts tomato/onion situation which always pleases me). If you enjoy fresh red peppers (bell or otherwise), that would work, but you will never catch me with a fresh red pepper (bell or otherwise).

Wash the tomatoes, take the stems off, remove any egregiously thick cores. Small tomatoes go in whole, medium ones get halved or quartered, larger ones get cut into 2-inch pieces. Put them into a large dutch oven or baking dish (or pie plate, or cake pan— anything goes, really. Avoid cast iron, as it’ll react with the acidity of the tomatoes).

Add a few peeled and quartered shallots or spring onions, whole scallions, thick wedges of peeled red, yellow or white onions, or even long-ish slabs of leeks. Smashed cloves of garlic are always invited, and you can also add some spriggy, heartier herbs like thyme, marjoram or oregano. I scatter with whole dried chiles (Chile de Arbol for something spicy, New Mexican or Guajillo or something sweeter, Chipotle for something smokey) and season everything with salt.

love me or leave me, I only wear tie-dye now.

Drizzle with a good amount of olive oil, and no I don’t mean several tablespoons, I am talking at least half a cup, more if you love 2 b bad (you will also reuse this oil, so don’t worry about wasting— we are not wasting!). You’re not poaching tomatoes in the oil, but you do want to give them enough to swim about as they break down while roasting.

If I’m doing a large batch in the dutch oven, I’ll put the lid on and pop them into a 300-degree oven and let them go for…oh, I don’t know. I’ve never set a timer in my life, but let’s call it 2–2 1/2 hours. I’ll then remove the lid and let them go another hour or so. If these were beans, everyone would tell me I could soak them to reduce the cooking time, but I like it when things take time, so leave me and my beans alone!

(If you’re doing a smaller batch, say two pounds, you can do them without a lid for about the same time).

Sometimes, they come out soft and juicy and a little wrinkly, sometimes they come out drier and a little caramelized around the edges, I love them all the ways.

[I do this with other vegetables, too: onions, garlic, leeks, eggplant, mushrooms, fennel. I wish it worked better with summer squash, but then again, I also wish I liked summer squash more. More directives and intel can be found in Dining In.]

but really, the best is when the ones in then middle come out soft and juicy and the ones on the edges get caramelized and wrinkly.

HOW TO STORE

Keep them in their oil— they’re good stored in the fridge for about a month, up to six months in the freezer.

I selfishly keep most of these tomatoes for myself, stashing them in my freezer to eat throughout the year (that is actually my coping mechanism), but sometimes I’ll bring them to someone with a sweet note including a directive not to open until, like, the end of February, for when we all need them most. Cute!

HOW TO EAT

Anything goes. They aren’t quite sauce, but they are great to make a sauce with (just cook them down further in a skillet with some white wine and more fresh garlic until they break apart into a sauce), but also “great on toast” lol, plopped into a very soft scramble, stirred into brothy beans (A Newsletter callback!), and lightly sizzled in the leftover chicken fat from searing some thighs. Chop them up with herbs and spoon it over roasted vegetables or sliced steak. Eat them straight, with soft creamy cheese, put them INTO a soft creamy cheese and eat it like dip, honesty, do whatever you want with them, they’re agreeable and impossible not to love. Last night, I ate them tossed with pasta and fried capers, and no I didn’t take a photo. 11/10.

QUARANTINE ACTIVITIES

It was my birthday this week and as a gift to myself, mostly stayed away from The Internet. As a result, have fewer excellent recommendations, but maybe that in and of itself is the quarantine activity: Get off the internet. Uh..except this newsletter. Definitely read that. But this section will resume next week with our regularly scheduled programming, plus some very fun special guests. See you next week!

This newsletter is free with the option to become a paid subscriber. For the month of September, proceeds will go to Heart of Dinner, a NYC-based organization that’s working to provide home-cooked meals and handwritten letters, combating hunger and isolation for the homebound and elderly Asian-American community of New York. Learn more about them here.
Past supported organizations to put on your radar: The Okra Project / Food Issues Group / La Cocina