You say tomato and I say tomatoes — lots of them. I grow dozens of varieties — from trusted heirlooms to exciting new cultivars — in shades of red, yellow, orange and even indigo. Here, I share my favorites and tips for making this delectable summer fruit last long after the growing season.
George and Ira Gershwin’s 1937 song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” gets one thing right: “You like tomato and I like tomahto.” One of the most loved, used and grown fruits, the tomato is also one of the most versatile. It can be consumed raw — right off the vine — or chopped and sliced in myriad salads. It can be dried, oven-roasted, baked into tarts, puréed into soups, milled into sauces, squeezed into juice, cooked into ketchup or sweetened into jam. And it can also be frozen and canned to be enjoyed months later.
I learned about tomatoes and the art of growing them from my father. A backyard gardener, Dad grew an inordinate number of tomato plants on his fifth of an acre. And he somehow managed to grow impeccable, blemish-free 2-to-4-pound tomatoes in his fertile garden. His favorite variety was Big Boy, a hybrid Burpee introduced in 1949.
Today, in my garden, I experiment with new hybrids, old standbys and many heirlooms. I’m always searching for that perfect, amazing, juicy, edible, usable fruit that the Italians so aptly named pomodoro — or “apple of gold.” Like my dad, I too grow Big Boy, and also Better Boy, Early Girl, Beefsteak, Pink Brandywine, Green Zebra, Roma VF and Mortgage Lifter, as well as several smaller cherry- and pear-shaped types.
For the effort growing tomatoes requires, the rewards are, in my mind, stupendous! Just take a cellar of coarse sea salt with you at harvest time. Pick a few of your very best. Sit down (the ground will do), sprinkle them with salt, take a bite and enjoy the fruit of the gods!
FOUR WAYS TO PRESERVE
To get the most out of all the varieties I grow, I preserve tomatoes for use throughout the year. Here are four basic methods.
1. OVEN-DRIED TOMATOES
These add depth of flavor to any recipe. Use them straight from the freezer on pizzas and focaccias with your favorite cheese, or work them into pasta recipes.
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Yield: 2 quarts (about 30 slices)
6 large beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes (about 3 1/2 pounds), such as Pink Brandywine, Marbonne or Beefmaster, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
10 thyme sprigs
1. Heat oven to 250 F with racks in upper and lower thirds. Fit 2 parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets with wire racks. Divide tomato slices evenly between racks. Drizzle both sides with oil. Season with salt and pepper; scatter thyme over top.
2. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until tomatoes are dry (but not crisp) and wrinkled, about 3 1/2 hours. Let cool completely.
3. Transfer tomatoes to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet; freeze until firm. Stack in airtight containers and freeze up to 1 year.
2. TOMATO PURÉE
Milling tomatoes makes a versatile base for soups, stews and sauces, like my simple marinara (for the recipe, visit marthastewart.com/marthas-marinara). Freeze the purée and you’ll be able to use it for up to a year. Milled tomatoes are the gift that keeps on giving.
Active/Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: About 2 1/2 quarts
10 pounds ripe plum, vine-ripened, or Stone Ridge tomatoes, washed and cored
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1. BLANCH: Prepare an ice bath. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Score a shallow X in the bottom of each tomato with a knife, then place in boiling water for about 10 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer tomatoes immediately to ice bath.
2. PEEL: When cool, remove and peel tomatoes by gripping the skin between your thumb and the flat part of a knife blade, starting at the scored X.
3. SEED: Quarter tomatoes lengthwise and scrape out seeds with your fingers or a spoon. Reserve seeds and juice for Summer Tomato Water.
4. MILL: Pass tomatoes through a food mill fitted with a fine disk, removing pulp as it accumulates. Stir in kosher salt to taste. Portion into jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace, and freeze until ready to use, up to 1 year.
3. SUMMER TOMATO WATER
When milling tomatoes, don’t discard the pulp and seeds — instead, save them to make tomato water. Packed with concentrated flavor, tomato water captures the essence of this summer fruit, giving dishes from cocktails to soups a sweet boost. Add a splash to a martini for a refreshing twist on the classic. Or freeze it into ice cubes to enhance a Bloody Mary. Pour in a few spoonfuls to perk up a salad dressing or gazpacho.
Active Time: 55 minutes
Total Time: 9 hours
Yield: Makes 1 cup
Pulp, seeds and juice reserved from Tomato Purée
1. Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth, and set it over a bowl or a large liquid measure. Add tomato pulp, seeds and juice and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 1 day. (Tip: For clear liquid, don’t stir the pulp.) Tomato water will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen and used throughout the year.
4. TOMATO CONFIT
Slow-cooking tomatoes in oil, garlic, and herbs intensifies their natural flavor and perfumes them with aromatics. Try varieties like Early Girl, Noire Russe and Better Boy.
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Yield: About 2 1/2 quarts
12 ripe medium vine-ripened or heirloom tomatoes, washed and cored (about 3 1/2 pounds)
3 basil sprigs
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise (3 tablespoons)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Heat oven to 350 F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high. Prepare an ice bath.
2. Score a shallow X in the bottom of each tomato with a knife, then place in boiling water for about 10 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer tomatoes immediately to ice bath. When cool, remove and peel tomatoes by gripping the skin between your thumb and the flat part of a knife blade, starting at the scored X.
3. Combine tomatoes (cored-sides down), basil, and garlic in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle generously with salt; drizzle with oil. Bake until tender, about 50 minutes. Let cool completely.
4. Transfer tomatoes with their juices to quart-size glass jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Freeze until ready to use, up to 1 year.
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