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.