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Get Gardening: Saving tomatoes for the winter

Tomatoes are ready to harvest.
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Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

Tomatoes are ready to harvest. Your  garden is likely exploding with tomatoes. Local  farms have quite an abundance of tomatoes. All of this probably has you wondering, what can I do with all of these delicious treats? Making salsa and pasta sauce are great options. Tomatoes tend to grow in very abundant amounts and are generally ready to harvest in batches. It's rare for them to be ready one at a time, which would be quite convenient so you could easily consume them one at a time at a nice even rate. Instead you stare at them for a week or two trying to will them to turn ripe then one day you walk out into the garden and every last tomato is suddenly ripe — all at once. You throw your arms up in the air thinking "what in the world am I going to do with all of these tomatoes? I can't possibly use all of them."

Fear not, utilizing tomatoes is quite easy as long as you enjoy either salsa, pasta sauce or both. If you don't enjoy those then my question to you is: Why are you growing tomatoes? Grow what you are going to eat!

Gather up your bushels of tomatoes along with: 

  • Onions
  • Peppers (hot and sweet)
  • Garlic
  • Mint
  • Basil
  • Lemon
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Chipotle

Obviously, we're going for as many of these ingredients coming from your garden or favorite local farm as possible. As luck would have it all of these ingredients are usually ready in the garden at exactly the same time. 

This is likely not luck at all but if you think back to old world Europe circa 1500 or 1600 these are likely the ingredients that were all ready at the same time from the farms and gardens so naturally all of these ingredients were put together in the kitchen and pasta sauce was created! 

It's funny how the more you garden the more revelations like that you have about random things in our world. I would also bet that this was a thing amongst indigenous tribes long before the first written record of it in Europe, now that is some food for thought!

Now that you have all of your garden ingredients gathered, give them a good wash so they are sparkly clean and start chopping them up. For the tomatoes I'm a big fan of slicing them into long slices with the seeds in-tact and skins on. Dice the onions and peppers or cut them into whatever shapes you want, it doesn't matter. Dice and smash the garlic — I usually smash half the garlic and leave the other half un-smashed to try and create the widest range of flavor possible. Leave the mint and basil in-tact for now, later on you're going to rough them up in your palms a bit before adding them in.

Turn your oven broiler on the low setting, which is going to give everything a great fire roasted taste. Take out an oven sheet, place the tomatoes and peppers on the sheet in nice rows so everything is touching the pan and nothing is piled on top of each other, then drizzle with olive oil. Put the sheet on a rack in the middle of your oven. Set the timer for 15 minutes and check every few minutes since your broiler may operate completely different from mine. We want them to be halfway to golden brown after 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, add the onions and garlic to the mix, stir everything up a bit, put the sheet back in the oven and set the timer for another 15 minutes. Now everything should be golden brown, if not leave in the oven until they are. Take all of your ingredients and add them to a large pot on your stove. Turn this burner on a low to medium heat, add the ingredients from the oven, mix them all together while adding a generous amount of olive oil.

Take a handful of mint and basil leaves, rub them in your palms for a few seconds to rough them up, then add them into the pot along with a few dashes of: salt, pepper, cumin and chipotle. Add the juice of a wedge or two of lemon as well. Now leave the ingredients on the burner and reduce until it reaches your desired thickness**.

This is just for one batch, refill your sheet with more ingredients if you have them and repeat everything. Add the ingredients to the same pot if making multiple batches. If you have a lot of ingredients you can keep doing this all day long and amass a mega cauldron of deliciousness.

The result is both salsa and pasta sauce! Boom, you just got a twofer in! Now that is delicious efficiency.

You can just freeze the excess in glass jars and enjoy your creation in the winter on pasta or when you get chips or it can be added to anything else you make if you want to get your taste buds dancing. 

*Notice how I'm not giving you any specific quantities for these ingredients, that is for you to figure out! Put on your thinking cap and do some experimenting to find out what quantities you like best. After all, we're all different. Just remember, you can always add more ingredients but you can't take any out if you add too much.

**If you don't want to wait for your creation to reduce, you can add some arrowroot starch / flour to thicken it up. I don't use this a lot but in a pinch it's pretty great or if you really want some thick salsa then that's the way to go.
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