RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—As summer swells to fullness, gardens and farmer's markets are brimming with gorgeous ripe tomatoes, more than you can possibly eat fresh. One option is to can your tomatoes and turn them into delectable pasta sauces. But a great way to enjoy that summer harvest flavor for months is preserving tomatoes in crushed or paste form. Doing so now gives you plenty of flexibility in what you can do with your tomatoes later. All the recipes below involve freezing tomatoes, so you won't need hot-water canning baths.
Plum tomatoes, otherwise called Italian or paste tomatoes, are best for preserving because they are meaty and have less juicy seed pulp. But any tomato type—even huge slicers or tiny cherry tomatoes—can be used; you’ll just need more to start with to compensate for the extra juiciness. Ripe tomatoes are best for crushed tomatoes and sauce; overripe tomatoes make the best paste. A pound and a half of tomatoes will make about a pint of crushed tomatoes, about ½ pint of sauce (depending on how thick you make the finished product), or a few ounces of paste (also depending on how thick you make it). These basic tomato products can be frozen, or preserved using a hot-water-bath canner or a pressure canner. For variety, you may also want to make some oven-dried tomatoes.
Basic Crushed Tomatoes
Bottled lemon juice or vinegar
Freezer containers (I use wide-mouth can-and-freeze pints) or canning jars with bands and new lids
Follow these instructions if you will be canning your crushed tomatoes. Before proceeding, put the hot-water bath on to heat and put the clean jars and lids in hot water to warm up. Or freeze them if you're not going to be using them in the near future.
First, wash and skin your tomatoes. Skinning is easy: Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, and use a slotted spoon to carefully lower the tomatoes, a few at a time, into the boiling water. Fish them out after about 30 seconds to a minute (if you blow on one and the skin splits and curls back it’s ready), and put them in a large bowl of cold water. The quick dunk in boiling water cooks the flesh just under the skin, allowing you to slip it off cleanly with your fingers after the tomatoes cool (this works for peaches too). Place the skinned tomatoes into a colander and repeat for all tomatoes.
Next, seed them. (You can choose to leave the seeds in, but I prefer to remove them.) Use a sharp knife to cut out any core or solid areas, and then cut each tomato in half around its middle so that you are cutting through all the cavities full of seeds. Hold a cut half in your palm, cut side away from your palm, and squeeze the seeds and jelly around them out into a container (you can save the juice for cooking, but I usually send it all to the compost heap). If you want to get every seed, use your finger to sweep each cavity.
Drop the squeezed halves into a large non-reactive pot and heat, using a potato masher to crush them enough so a little juice collects in the bottom. Bring the crushed tomatoes to a simmer, stirring frequently to prevent sticking or scorching, for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Your tomatoes should still be a bit chunky, depending on the variety of tomatoes you used. But otherwise, they're ready to pack up.
If you're freezing, allow the tomatoes to cool until they are still hot but won’t burn you, ladle into freezer-appropriate containers (leaving space at the top for expansion) and label. If canning, fill your hot, sterilized jars immediately, adding 1 tablespoon of juice or vinegar to each pint to ensure the acid level is high enough for safety, and process as recommended by the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP).
Plain Tomato, Pizza, and Pasta Sauces
Converting crushed tomatoes into tomato or pizza sauces either now or later in the year is as simple as cooking the tomatoes down a bit longer until the result is as thick as you want it. You can add seasonings, such as herbs or garlic, during the cooking, but I prefer to leave mine plain and season it when I’m cooking later. As with crushed tomatoes, you can freeze the sauce as soon as it cools a little, or can it using the appropriate processing times.
I prefer to make mostly plain sauce in the summer and add seasonings, veggies, and meat when I’m preparing the actual dish, but it is easy and safe to make finished sauce and freeze it if you have veggies you’d like to use up. Canning spaghetti sauce with lots of veggies and/or meat is more complicated than canning plain or lightly seasoned tomato sauce, as the product must be pressure-canned and processed for as long as would be required for the most demanding ingredient to make the final product safe to store. If you want to try canning meat- or veggie-filled sauces, be sure to consult the NCHFP's advice and not exceed the amount of veggies or meat called for in your recipe.