Archive for the 'Tomatoes' Category

Recipe: Making a quick sauce in 10 minutes or less –

|August 26, 2011|read comments (0)
Author: Mama's Kitchen

It’s Thursday!

Yep – it’s pasta day and I have no time for much today – but I still have to cook.

Place the pasta pot on the stove with cold water in it and bring to a rolling boil; add salt and wait for the water to return to a full boil; drop in 1 pound spaghetti and cook al dente.

Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add a can of diced tomatoes with sweet onions; season with just a bit of Kosher salt (very little – because I am adding olives that are highly salted), cracked black pepper, onion powder, garlic, parsley and basil; bring to a simmer to desired thickness; add green pimiento-stuffed olives. Heat through.

Drain spaghetti. Mine was tossed with the tomato-onion sauce with olives; while the rest was drained, placed in a hot pot of oil and seasoned with Kosher salt, cracked black pepper, garlic and parsley. I had to have tomatoes – others wanted spaghetti in oil. Just a light sprinkle of grated Pecorino Romano to top it off.

Crusty Italian bread to complete a very easy to prepare meal!

Many of us will be planting our gardens soon – of course – unless you live in a warmer area of the country than we do – and tomatoes are always popular.  And many of us will be canning our tomato products as well.


I put this together hoping you would find this useful.


How about a little lesson on all these?

*Tomato paste: Is a deep red, richly flavored concentrate that’s made of tomatoes that have been cooked for several hours, strained and reduced. It’s available in cans or tubes. When I make it homemade I use a good quality Roma tomato, remove skins by blanching (place in a pot of boiling water for 15 to 30 seconds), core, remove seeds (which can be used for soups or salad dressings, etc.), dice and place in heavy saucepan, boil down into a thick, rich paste. You can add a bit of salt. Stir to prevent from sticking. After an hour, place tomatoes in large metal colander to strain. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, press the tomato flesh through. Scrape occasionally. Return flesh to pan and at this point you can add additional spices and herbs, if desired. You can add Italian seasoning, basil, marjoram, garlic, rosemary, onion powder, etc., whatever you want to use. Continue the cooking process for as long as it takes (in hours) and has turned into a thick paste that sticks to the spoon. The bigger the pan, the longer it takes. Homemade tomato paste will store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Either use it or lose it. After refrigerating for 24 hours (to be sure that it is the proper temperature, you can portion and freeze in freezer containers or freezer bags, label and date.

NOTE: When it comes to straining, some have used a food processor or blender to do this job and save time – I’ll still use the metal colander. I do not season my paste – this way I can use it in any recipe without having to worry about how much of what is in it.

NOTE: It’s the meaty tomatoes that give you the best final results.

* Tomato puree: A thick, rich mixture made of tomatoes that have been cooked briefly and strained. It’s available in cans. When I make this homemade I begin with the same procedures as above (for tomato paste) BUT once I remove the skins, I cut in half to remove the seeds and place cut side down on paper towels to remove excess juice. Transfer tomato halves to large bowl. Process tomatoes in food processor to a smooth, pourable puree, transfer to large pot and add salt. If too thick, add a small amount of water. Partially cover and allow to simmer for 45 to 60 minutes. It’s done when you have an even, thick consistency and no longer separates. I find that a wide pan does a good job (better than a tall pan) because the liquid evaporates quicker. If you are going to process in jars to preserve, or you are going to freeze for future use, bring puree to a boil before removing from heat. If canning, follow direction in your Ball blue Book; if you are freezing, place in the refrigerator for 24 hours to be sure it reaches the proper temperature. Portion into freezer containers or freezer bags, label and date.

NOTE: You can saute finely minced onions in a bit of olive oil before adding tomatoes and salt. That is not tomato puree to me – sorry. Left alone, I can use my puree for anything I want.

* Tomato sauce: This is a slightly thinner tomato puree. Some styles are seasoned so that the sauce is ready to add to soups, sauces and other preparations. My preference is plain – then I can do what I want with it. It’s going to take 35 to 45 pounds of tomatoes to give you approximately 7 quarts of tomato sauce. The thinner you want your sauce, the less tomatoes it will take. Score the bottoms of your tomatoes and place in boiling water for less than a minute; plunge into ice water and remove the skins. You don’t want the skins left on because they will become tough and chewy. Halve the tomatoes and remove the seeds and excess juice. Just squeeze and use a spoon to dig out the insides. Place in your metal colander to drain. Place in large pot, bring to simmer until you receive desired consistency. Bring to boil, reducing by one-third will give you a thin sauce; reducing by one-half will give you a thicker sauce. At this point you can follow the Ball Blue Book directions for canning. If you are going to freeze, place in refrigerator for 24 hours to reach the proper temperature then portion into freezer containers or freezer bags, label and date.

* Tomato paste: 4 1/2-ounce tube = 5 tablespoons
* Tomato puree: 1 cup = 1/2 cup tomato paste plus water to equal 1 cup
* Tomato sauce: 1 cup = 3/8 cup tomato paste plus water to equal 1 cup

* When a recipe calls for tomato paste and all you have is tomato sauce, for each tablespoon of tomato paste, add 1/2 cup tomato sauce and reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.

* The next time you need a small amount of tomato paste, buy it in a tube instead of a can. Because so little of the tubed paste is exposed to the air, it can be tightly sealed and refrigerated for up to 1 year. I also find that if I only need one to two tablespoons for a recipe, I can measure tablespoonfuls of paste onto waxed paper placed on a baking tin and place in the freezer to freeze. When frozen, transfer to Ziploc freezer bag and I have portions for the next recipe that calls for a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. You can even use an ice cube tray to portion your paste; once frozen, transfer to freezer bags. The tablespoons of frozen paste can be dropped right into hot mixtures like soups and sauces.

* Use a dab of tomato paste to enliven flat-flavored soups or sauces.

When it comes to choosing tomatoes to work with, Roma (plum) tomatoes are known as “paste” tomatoes because they thicker, meatier walls and much less water content than other tomatoes. The least amount of water/liquid will give you less cooking time. Beefsteak is another good tomato to use. And you can mix tomatoes if need be.

Sun-dried Tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes can be quite pricey in the supermarkets and it is very easy to make them yourself! If you don’t live in a hot, sunny climate – you can use your oven and still have great results!

In Italy, ripe plum tomatoes are dried in the hot sun. When dried, they look like shriveled red chili peppers and are wonderfully flavored since the drying process intensifies their natural sweetness and flavor.

Sun dried tomatoes should be used to give an extra flavor punch to a recipe instead of as a main ingredient. For example, a tablespoon or two will flavor a pasta dish for four. They can be used without additional cooking in garlicky pasta sauces, pizza, pasta salads, and with strongly flavored vegetables like broccoli or chicory. They work well in stir fries with chicken, beef, and shrimp or in rice, pasta, and grain salads.

Sun dried tomatoes are sold either loose in packages or packed in oil and are quite expensive. You can make them yourself by drying the tomatoes and varying the flavorings to suit your taste, using any combination of herbs that pleases you.

To Dry Plum Tomatoes in the Oven

Select perfect, ripe fresh Italian plum tomatoes.

Cut each in half and open like a book. Cut out the seeds, trim the stems, and cut out any blemishes.

Preheat the oven to 220°F. Place the tomatoes on racks on baking sheets. Sprinkle tomatoes lightly with salt. Bake for 7 hours. Rotate baking sheets in the oven during cooking time and remove smaller tomatoes as they dry.

Cool tomatoes and fold them closed.

To Dry Cherry Tomatoes

These smaller tomatoes are for pastas, pizzas, sauces, or garnishes.

Preheat oven to 450°F for 20 minutes.

Cut fresh red or yellow cherry tomatoes in half. Grease a cookie sheet with olive oil and place the tomatoes on the sheet, cut-sides up. If desired, sprinkle with herbs.

Place tomatoes in oven. Turn oven down to 350°F leave for 2 hours or until dried to your taste.

Storing Dried Tomatoes

After tomatoes have been dried, you can store them in an herb-flavored oil. To do this, pack dried tomatoes tightly in 1/2 pint jars with a layer of fresh herbs in between two layers of tomatoes. Cover with olive oil. Run a knife around the tomatoes to help air escape. Seal jars and store at room temperature for several months for best flavor.

After you've finished the tomatoes, you can reuse the remaining tomato flavored oil in pasta salads and for sauteing fresh vegetables.

Buying and Storing Tomatoes

As long as they are kept at room temperature, tomatoes picked at the mature green stage will finish ripening in supermarkets and after you purchase them. Within a few days, they will soften slightly, turn red and-most important of all-develop their full flavor and aroma.

To avoid interrupting this process, place the tomatoes on a counter or in a shallow bowl at room temperature until they are ready to eat.
When tomatoes are chilled below 55° F, the ripening comes to a halt and the flavor never develops.

To speed up the process, keep tomatoes in a brown paper bag or closed container to trap the ethylene gas that helps them ripen. Adding an ethylene-emitting apple or pear to the container can also hasten ripening. Store the tomatoes in a single layer and with the stem ends up, to avoid bruising the delicate "shoulders."

Once they are fully ripened, tomatoes can be held at room temperature or refrigerated for several days. When you?re ready to use them, bring the tomatoes back to room temperature for fullest flavor.

Tomato Techniques

To peel: Fill a saucepan with enough water to cover tomatoes; bring to a boil. Immerse tomatoes about 30 seconds; drain and cool. Remove stem ends and slip off skins.

To seed: Cut tomatoes in half crosswise. Gently squeeze each half, using your fingers to remove seeds. To reserve the juice for use in dressings, sauces or soups, seed the tomato into a strainer held over a bowl.

Tomato Shells: Cut a 1/2 inch slice off the stem end of each tomato. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp.

Roast: Preheat oven to 450° F. Halve tomatoes crosswise. Place halves, cut side down, on a shallow baking pan; brush with oil. Roast until lightly browned, about 20 minutes; cool. Remove skins and stem ends.

Slow-Cook: Preheat oven to 300° F. Remove stem ends; slice tomatoes. Place slices on a shallow baking pan; brush with oil. Cook until tomatoes soften and shrink, about 45 minutes.

Tomato Equivalents:

1 small tomato = 3 to 4 ounces
1 medium tomato = 5 to 6 ounces
1 large tomato = 7 or more ounces
1 pound of tomatoes = 2 1/2 cups chopped or 1 1/2 cups pulp

How to Choose a Tomato

Tomato season is June through August. The best tomatoes available for purchase are vine-ripened tomatoes. Unfortunately, these are the most perishable, which is a reason why most supermarkets purchase green tomatoes and allow them to ripen at the store. These, unfortunately, will NEVER have the flavor or texture of a vine-ripened tomato. Look for firm tomatoes, with no blemishes, a distinct tomato aroma, that gives slightly to pressure, and should be heavier than it appears.

Always store tomatoes at room temperature. They should NEVER be placed in a refrigerator or placed in direct sunlight.

You can ripen an unripe tomato by placing in a paper bag (pierced in several areas with a fork) with an apple. Keep at room temperature for a couple days (check occasionally).

Recipe: an overabundance of tomatoes –

|February 24, 2011|read comments (0)
Author: Mama's Kitchen

I'm always asked – what to do with an over-abundance of tomatoes.

For the life of me – I've never had an overabundance of tomatoes – I always wanted more to do more with them!

I enjoy canning tomatoes. There are 3 basic kinds of tomato sauce: uncooked, slightly cooked and long-simmered. The longer you simmer, the thicker your tomato sauce will be.

Tomatoes can be canned with or without any seasonings. Just remember – how you season will effect how you wll be using the sauce. Most of my canned tomato sauce is unflavored giving me the option of using the tomatoes for anything I like.

Tomatoes can be canned in pint, quart and quart-and-a-half jars with no problems.

Cooked tomato sauce can be simmer anywhere from 2 hours to 20 hours or more. Depending on the size of the pan, type of tomatoes, etc. It's not unusual to be up a good 48 hours making tomato puree in my house. Maybe that's why I don't sleep much – that is how I was raised.

Sometimes I will make a regular "spaghetti sauce" with or without meat and ready-to- eat. Also pizza sauce which I can mostly in pint jars. And marinara.

I may skin and crush tomatoes, saute in a bit of olive oil with onion and a combination of green and red bell peppers, seasoned with marjoram, basil, parsley, salt and pepper and let it thicken – I like that as a pizza topping or as a topping on a large, thick slice of homemade bread or crusty Italian – pop in the oven to cook/heat and to me it's a complete meal.

I have also done this by freezing the sauces or crushed tomatoes in pint and quart jars. I fill the jars – place UNCAPPED in the refrigerator for 24 hours – then I cap and place in the freezer.

You can use plastic containers or resealable bags if you cool the mixtures first.

I have also scored the bottoms (cut an "X" through the skin), cored and placed in a pot of simmering water to remove the skins, smash, seed and place in jars as is; freeze as above. Those I like to use for soups, stews, goulash, Spanish rice, bean dishes, etc.

A friend of mine will freeze clean, whole tomatoes in plastic bags for future use. I tried freezing a couple like that – just to see what it was like and I didn't like it.
I also froze a quart jar of grape tomatoes. I used them in a one skillet-type dinner and I don't think I will do that again. It wasn't the same; I'll stick to doing all the work at once and not taking any short-cuts.

I was also asked about freezing bell peppers. Clean, core, remove seeds and membranes, place in place bags, let the air out and seal. I freeze them in halves or by cutting just the tops off and cleaning. Then I can stuff them either way or cut frozen pepper slices to place on casseroles for "presentation". I always make sure I have plenty of green and red bell peppers frozen for soups, stews, sauces, casseroles, stuffings, rice dishes, etc. so I am freezing them all year 'round. When they are on sale I always buy extra for that reason.

And I still dry them in the dehydrator for use in any dish as well. It's more time consuming but it's well worth it and much cheaper than what you pay in the stores for little bottles of dried green or red peppers! I can fill a large glass jar with dried peppers for less than what you would pay in the store.

Recipe: Homegrown tomato sammies!

|February 24, 2011|read comments (0)
Author: Mama's Kitchen

I don't think there is an Italian alive today that has not enjoyed a luscious homegrown tomato sammie!  And I just can't wait for tomato season this year! 

These sloppy sammies are the absolute best – to die for!  These are the types of sammies you need to eat over the sink or wear with pride!
Begin by washing your tomato and onion, slicing and placing in a rimmed dish. Drizzle with olive oil – extra is good because you just sop it up with the Italian bread! Sprinkle with Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, and today I sprinkled a bit of dried basil on it – I didn't have any fresh to use. Believe me, it's equally good without it.

Let it sit on the counter for 20 minutes or so – this lets all those juices flow from the tomato into the oil.

Serve on crusty rolls, crusty Italian bread, homemade bread/rolls, French bread, ciabatta, or just enjoy as a salad while sopping' up those heavenly juices with your bread/rolls.

And don't forget to dip your sammie in the juices as you are eating this.

Best sammies in the world!!!

Give it a try.