You Say Tomato

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BY AMY PENNINGTON
PHOTO BY CAROLE TOPALIAN
Find Amy’s Canning 101 instructions on the recipe pages of edibleseattle.com

 

I have been a dedicated home canner for years and have preserved damn near everything for stockpiling the season—jams, chutneys, sauces, drinks, tuna—you name it. The one glaring void? For years, I rejected the idea of canning tomatoes. Personally, I felt that tinned tomatoes from the store were a great, affordable option for home cooks and so the hassle wasn’t justified by economy or taste.

That steadfast position changed a few summers ago when I found myself staring down a box of bruised tomatoes from a friend, and thought I might as well put some up. The resulting pint jars of crushed tomatoes proved to be some of the best-tasting tomatoes I’d ever had. I used them in a quick marinara sauce over the winter and they rocked my world. Why had I waited so long?

People tend to think canning tomatoes is a serious commitment requiring hours of slaving over a hot stove, but they’re entirely wrong. It’s actually quite easy if you plan properly and set up a kitchen production line beforehand. When you need a little sunshine in the dead of winter, use crushed tomatoes for pasta sauce, soup bases or gravies.

For traditional canned tomatoes and sauces, always choose a paste tomato. Paste tomatoes tend to have an elongated, oval shape and are meatier and less juicy than slicing tomatoes. Paste tomatoes, once cooked, hold their flavor far better than a tomato meant to be eaten fresh. Roma is the most common paste tomato variety, but San Marzano or anything labeled “paste” at the farmers market will work well. For canning, I use “seconds” which are slightly bruised or over-ripe tomatoes and are often one third the price of a more-perfect tomato—you’re going to pulverize them, anyway.

 

Crushed Tomatoes
makes about 9 pints | start to finish: about 1 ½ hours active time

This recipe makes a decent amount of sauce but don’t be intimidated by the quantity of tomatoes. The work is quick and the results rewarding. Tomatoes vary greatly in their acidity, so acid must be added to each jar in order to insure safety. The final product is a batch of pure tomato flavor and therefore flexible in it’s use. A pinch of salt is optional.

15 pounds paste tomatoes

8-10 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

salt to taste, optional

 

Fill one large pot with water, leaving a 3” allowance, and bring to a boil for the tomatoes. Meanwhile, set up another large pot for your water bath canning. Set two large and one small glass bowls on a counter within reach, along with a slotted spoon, a mesh strainer and canning tongs. Line up pint jars and add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar. Set aside.

Once the water is boiling, add as many tomatoes as can fit in the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for one to two minutes—just long enough for the skins to start splitting. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes, letting the water drain off  completely. Place these blanched tomatoes in one of the large glass bowls and set aside to cool. Continue working in this fashion until all of the tomatoes have been blanched.

When cool enough to handle, remove the skins, working over the bowl filled with blanched tomatoes. Working over the same bowl allows any residual juice and tomato flesh to collect without being wasted. Place the skins into the smaller bowl (juice will also pool in this bowl and you’ll add it back later) and then remove the seeds from the tomato. To remove seeds, grasp the top (stem) end of the tomato, and using your hands like a claw, dig into the flesh and scrape down, exposing the quadrants of the tomato and releasing the seeds. Once all of the seeds are removed, add the ‘clean’ tomato to the second large bowl and set aside. Continue working in this fashion until all of the tomatoes are skinned and seeded.

Seeds, tomato water and some flesh will have collected in both of the processing bowls. Using a fine mesh strainer to collect the seeds and skins, pour any liquid that has collected into the bowl with the tomatoes, and discard the skins and seeds. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes until the desired consistency is reached. (I typically crush tomatoes just until there are no overtly large pieces, which takes about 2 minutes to accomplish.)

Add the crushed tomatoes to a large pot and set the pot over medium high heat. Stirring often, cook the tomatoes until just at a low boil. Once the tomatoes have started boiling, reduce the heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes. Skim off and discard any thick foam that collects on the surface. Sprinkle with a little salt as preferred.

Fill the prepared jars with the hot, cooked tomatoes, leaving 3/4” of headspace. Wipe the jar rims and seal the jars. Place the jarred tomatoes in a prepared water bath and process for 20 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter overnight.

 

washed jars • water bath

Tomato Ketchup
makes 4 to 5 half pints | start to finish: about 2 hours active time

This begins in an identical way to the crushed tomato recipe, but the final result is a thick, smooth,  nicely spiced and completely homemade pantry staple.

6 pounds paste tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

8 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

2 whole star anise

1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds

 

Fill one large pot with water, leaving a 3” allowance, and bring to a boil for the tomatoes. Set up another large pot for your water bath canning. Set out two large and one small glass bowls on a counter within reach, along with a slotted spoon, a mesh strainer and canning tongs.

Once the water is boiling, add as many tomatoes as can fit in the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for one to two minutes—just long enough for the skins to start splitting. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes, letting the water drain off completely. Place these blanched tomatoes in the large glass bowl and set aside to cool. Continue working in this fashion until all of the tomatoes have been blanched.

When cool enough to handle, remove the skins while working over the bowl of blanched tomatoes. Working over the same bowl allows any residual juice and tomato flesh to collect without being wasted. Place the skins into the smaller bowl (juice will also pool in this bowl and you’ll add it back later) and then remove the seeds from the tomato. To remove seeds, grasp the top (stem) end of the tomato, and using your hands like a claw, dig into the flesh and scrape down, exposing the quadrants of the tomato and releasing the seeds. Once all of the seeds are removed, add the ‘clean’ tomato to the second large bowl and set aside. Continue working in this fashion until all of the tomatoes are skinned and seeded.

In a large pot, add the olive oil and set over medium heat. Once heated, add the onions and salt and cook while stirring frequently until they are browned and deeply caramelized, about 20 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and use a fine mesh strainer to add any residual juice from the tomato pulps and skins, holding back and discarding both skins and seeds. Add the sugar and vinegar. Tie the cloves, cinnamon sticks, star anise and fennel seeds into a bundle using cheesecloth, and add them to the pot, and increase the heat to high. Stirring often, cook the tomatoes until just at a low boil. Once the tomatoes have started boiling, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring regularly for 30 minutes. Skim off and discard any thick foam that collects on the surface.

Taste for flavor and remove the spice bag, if satisfied; leave it in if you prefer a more strongly spiced condiment. Working in batches, pour the tomatoes into a blender and carefully blend to a smooth puree. Using a mesh strainer, strain the pureed tomato sauce back into the pot  and continue cooking over medium-low heat until the mixture is thick, like commercial ketchup, 30 to 45 minutes more.

When you’re happy with the consistency, remove the spice bag if it is still in the pot and fill the jars, leaving 1/4” of headspace.  Tap the jars on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the jar rims and seal the jars. Place the ketchup jars in a prepared water bath and process for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter overnight.

washed jars • water bath

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