Diane Miessler: What am I gonna do with all these cherry tomatoes?
Have you gone, overnight, from saying “When, oh when will my first tomato turn red?” to “What am I gonna do with all these cherry tomatoes?”
I have an idea for that, and for any other excess produce you’re lucky enough to have right now.
Instead of taking a giant bowl of cherry tomatoes into work, where people will quickly tire of them because they’ve got their own cherry tomatoes, you can roast them and any other overly prolific veggies and blend the dickens out of them. You’ll end up with an amazing base for spaghetti sauce, salsa, chili, cioppino, even gazpacho (with some raw stuff added) – anything that calls for tomato sauce.
Saving those tomatoes
Go out into your garden with a big bowl. Pick anything that’s ripe. This will probably include roughly a gazillion cherry tomatoes, some other tomatoes that are bigger but still too small to slice onto a hamburger, maybe with a tough peel and maybe too much trouble to peel for a caprese salad when you’re busy and tired after a long day of work, and wouldn’t you really rather relax and have a cold beverage while all these vegetables roast, anyway?
You may also have some peppers and squash, and maybe some zucchini the size of a dirigible (don’t use those for your sauce – it’ll make it too zucchini-intensive – but you can still roast it. I’ll tell you about that in a minute).
Bring them in, dump them in the sink, and rinse them off.
Then, put them into one or several roasting pans or cookie sheets with “lips.” First cut off the tough ends of the small squash, and break the green tops off any tomatoes that still have them (the ripest ones come off easily without tugging, and without the green tops). If you possess a modicum of patience and industry, also cut the tomatoes and peppers in half and remove the stems and seeds from the peppers. If, on the other hand, you’re like me, just dump them into the pan whole.
Drizzle everything with olive oil and sprinkle with Italian seasoning, pepper, and garlic. You can add fresh garlic later, when you’re making the final product. In the meantime, garlic salt will add some … salt, and make the house smell amazing, while adding a little flavor. Right now you just want to handle that extra produce, not be a culinary perfectionist.
In the evening, when the house is cooling off and will continue to do so, broil each pan for about 20 minutes, until the veggies are beginning to brown. Let them cool for a bit and just pull the peppers off the stems. Don’t worry about any leftover seeds — remember, we’re not being perfectionists. Then dump them into the blender and puree until very smooth – this will take care of those tough skins, while retaining all the nutritional goodies they contain. Repeat this with each pan as it cools.
There are a couple ways I like to preserve this sauce for later. One, you can pour about a quart into a – you guessed it – quart size Ziploc baggie – the kind with a leak-proof zipper. Lay the bags flat on a plate and put them into the freezer. When they’re frozen solid, you can sneak them into small places in your freezer, where they’ll take up almost no space. They’re just the right size for a batch of spaghetti.
You can also easily can this stuff. Ladle it into canning jars you’ve run through the dishwasher; you can buy a canning funnel that helps with this, but it’s not necessary. Fill to about ½ inch from the top. Wipe the rims with a damp paper towel to ensure a good seal, then screw the tops on finger-tight.
Put the jars into a canning pot or big soup pot and fill with hot water to just below the lids. Boil for 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle, screw the tops on tight to ensure a good seal. As they cool, you’ll hear a little “pop” when the vacuum kicks in; the top of a well-sealed jar will not push in and make a popping sound, because the vacuum has pulled it in.
Or, you can put the hot liquid into clean jars, cool and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for weeks, since you started with a hot, pretty much sterile product that heated up the jar. Later, add some chopped cucumber, onion, fresh tomatoes, avocado and shrimp and call it gazpacho.
Now, all those zucchini
What to do with that giant zucchini? On the first cold evening of fall, cut it in half, scoop out the seedy innards, and fill it with a half and half mix of cream cheese and cottage cheese, onions, mushrooms and turkey or veggie sausage. Bake at 350 degrees until the zucchini is tender – about an hour. If the top isn’t browned, put under the broiler for 5 or so minutes. And for extra points, sprinkle the top with Parmesan and thyme or some other herb you love. Serve in 1 inch slices.
As for your garden
And what to do in the garden? This is a gardening column, after all. Now is a good time to start seeds for cool-season veggies, like peas, broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower. You can plant beets, chard, lettuce, arugula and carrots right in the ground around more sprawling plants. Cover the lettuce and carrot seeds very thinly and be sure to keep seed beds moist – sprinkle them a couple times a day. As summer plants run their course, pull them out, chop them up as mulch, dig in a handful of compost, and plant the other seedlings.
Then go in and enjoy a bowl of gazpacho. Bon appetit!
Diane Miessler is a nurse, certified permaculture designer, and kitchen putterer. Her book about building soil, titled “Grow Your Soil: Harnessing the Power of the Soil Food Web for Your Best Garden EVER” will be coming out in February, compliments of Storey Publishing. Diane lives in Nevada City with her husband and an ill-mannered chihuahua.
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