It's tomato time again. We wait all year to have juicy, ripe-red tomatoes, free of that out-of-season tennis-ball texture.
But if you have a garden, it's a case of use it or lose it, and sometimes there's a lot to use.
In past columns, I've talked about sun-drying tomatoes, which gives them a sweet, intense flavor.
I've also made spaghetti sauce, freezing it in jars. (I have a smooth-top range, which doesn't work for home-canning.)
Since freezer space is at a premium, I like to get lots of moisture out of the tomatoes before jarring them. No point in just storing water!
This year I tried slow-roasting tomatoes to make my sauce. I checked several cookbooks and blogs to develop a composite recipe.
A couple of advantages to slow-roasting tomatoes:
You avoid the peeling procedure that involves dropping the tomatoes in boiling water and then in an ice bath. The skins peel off quickly, but I tend to make a mess with the sloshing water.
After roasting, you just pinch at the skins and they pull right off. (Some friends tell me they don't worry about peeling tomatoes when they make sauce or salsa; they puree the tomatoes really well, and the peel sort of disintegrates during cooking. But, that's a topic for another column.)
You can shrink several pounds of tomatoes into one or two cups of thick, rich sauce — more like tomato paste.
Roasting caramelizes the sugars in tomatoes, giving them a deep, rich sweetness that you don't get from simmering on the stove.
One drawback is that "slow roasting" can tie up your oven for a long period.
I tried several temperatures to determine an optimal amount of time. When roasted at 175 degrees for 10 hours, the tomatoes were sweet, plump and meaty, with most of the moisture gone.
When roasted at 200 degrees for 8 hours, the tomatoes were also plump and meaty, and most of the moisture was gone.
At 350 degrees, the kitchen began reeking of burning tomatoes after an hour. The skins were charred, and the tomatoes had a tinge of burned flavor.
So it seems lower, slower temperatures are the way to go. Put your tomatoes in the oven at night and wake up to the aroma of an Italian restaurant.
ROASTED SPAGHETTI SAUCE
About 20-25 plum tomatoes, depending on the size
1 tablespoon olive oil
Italian seasoning (dried basil, rosemary, oregano)
Garlic powder or garlic salt (or you may want to use whole cloves of fresh garlic)
Spread the olive oil on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle it with the herbs and salt.
Pull off the stems of the tomatoes and cut each tomato in half lengthwise.
Place the tomatoes cut side down on the pan. You should be able to fit all of the halves on the sheet. It's OK to crowd them a little because they will cook down.
Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Place the tomatoes in the oven and let them roast for about 8-9 hours (I'm not kidding when I say "slow-roasted" here.)
You may want to check them occasionally to make sure they're not burning. You can turn down the temperature as low as 170 if you need to let the tomatoes roast longer.
Turn off the oven and let them cool for a half hour or more.
Pinch the skins off and put the tomatoes in a blender or food processor. Blend until fairly smooth; you may want to leave the sauce a little chunky if desired.
You may want to strain it through a sieve to remove seeds, but I don't mind the seeds.
This recipe makes about 1½ to 2 cups of very thick tomato sauce.
You can freeze it, or use it immediately on pasta, pizza and any other way that you would use tomato sauce.
Options: You may opt to leave out the Italian herbs so you can flavor the sauce as you like. I added roasted chiles to make it into salsa. It was nice and thick, but it didn't have "fresh-made" flavor of raw tomatoes.