Last chance for tomatoes! Now's the time to get your final fill of summer's bounty, time to buy a bagful and stock the pantry for the long days of kale and pumpkin ahead. Mariquita Farms' Ladybug Buying Club will be in residence at Camino on Thursday Oct. 6, from 5-7pm, if you want to split a flat with a pal or two. For canning, the best tomatoes aren't the huge splashy heirlooms but the more modest Romas or Early Girls, short on size but dense with punchy flavor and sweetness.
Having participated in a massive can-a-thon of Roma tomatoes last year, I must say I'd rather spend such kitchen time pumping out a product with a few more frills. (For preserving straight-up peeled tomatoes, a vacuum sealer and plenty of freezer space are much more efficient.) Frills like barbecue sauce, or ketchup, especially this well-spiced, un-corn syruped, oven-roasted version, as good on a steak as a burger, on French fries or scrambled eggs. I put this out at a recent brunch between the home fries and the salmon eggs Benedict, and the bowl came back scraped clean.
Yes, it takes a long time, but the actual hands-on time is short. Some chopping, a little spice-toasting, the occasional stir, and all the rest is simply unattended oven time. A thick puree like this one can scorch and splatter when you try to cook it down, however slowly, on the top of the stove. Here, a slow roast concentrates the tomatoes without carbonizing them, while a final, brief stovetop cooking melds the flavors.
You could up the amount of vinegar, sugar, onions, and heat, add some molasses, and make into something more like barbecue sauce, even replacing the tomatoes with late-season plums. You can start with this spice mixture, then add more or less as your taste commands. A pinch of cardamom, some cayenne pepper for zing, more ginger, whatever you like. You can even put it in a red plastic squirt bottle, just like at your favorite burger joint. In this case, it really is a vegetable.
Want to share what you've put up and getting handy tips from other urban-homesteading enthusiasts? The preserving pros at Happy Girl Kitchen (who make a very tasty ketchup of their own) are hosting an Autumnal Recipe Exchange today, Oct. 2, from 12-5pm in Oakland. Bring samples of what you've been making along with personal recipes to swap.
Recipe: SLOW-ROASTED AUTUMN KETCHUP
Summary: Dress up a meatloaf or a burger with this smooth and saucy ketchup. Slow and steady oven roasting prevents scorching.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Yield: 1 quart
4 lbs small, dense-fleshed tomatoes, such as Romas or Early Girls
2 hot peppers, seeded and chopped
1 onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
3 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger, peeled
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (pimenton)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 balsamic vinegar
1/3 to 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons honey
Salt to taste
1. Preheat oven to 325F. In a glass or ceramic 9 x 13 pan, toss tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, and ginger together. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and black pepper. Break cinnamon stick in half and tuck both halves, plus cloves, into the tomato mixture. Roast, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours, until tomatoes are cooked down and saucy.
2. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves. Put tomato mixture through a food mill or push through a strainer to remove skins and make into a smooth puree.
3. In a small, heavy frying pan, toast coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds over medium heat for a few minutes, until the mustard seeds begin to pop and the mixture smells toasty. Remove from heat and let cool briefly, then grind to a powder using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
4. In a bowl, mix spices, tomato puree, vinegar, sugar. Pour mixture back into 9x13 pan and return to oven. Bake, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened and flavors have blended, about 1 hour. Taste and adjust seasoning.
5. To fully meld the flavors, scrape mixture into a heavy saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes.
6. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Or, pour into clean glass jars, let cool, then top with lids and store in the refrigerator. The ketchup is ready to eat right away, but gets better after collecting itself for a few weeks.