Have you ever wondered what happens to the fruits and vegetables that do not make it to the farmers market front shelves? All those ugly, misshapen, slightly bruised plants that just don’t appeal to the American consumer? Maybe you just assumed, like me, that they aren’t harvested all, that they just rot in the ground. Well, it’s not true. These sub-optimal vegetables and fruits are actually often for sale just like their picture-perfect brethren. However they, unlike their conventionally beautiful siblings, sell in bulk for prices that, figuratively speaking, are literally mouthwatering. There is a special secret to getting these special discounted ingredients. Lean close and I’ll tell you, but it’s just between us. You have to ask for them.
Today I’m going to tell you about canning tomatoes. The above box of tomatoes cost me about $10, and as long as I was willing to use it quickly and cut off the occasional bad piece, will make delicious tomato soup or tomato sauce in such quantities that my supply of containers and freezer space quickly become the limiting factors.
How to do it? Well, first you will need an immersion blender and the biggest pot you have. I use an eight-quart pot and when that fills up I split it over a couple pots. Take your favorite fresh tomato tomato soup recipe and octuple (8x) or sedectuple (16x) it. If you want to be more exact, compare the tomatoes your recipe calls for and with the tomatoes you have. Your goal is to use your tomatoes.
If your recipe calls for adding water, do not. Your tomatoes have more than enough water. If the recipe calls for broth, it will be more flavorful if you add broth. I happen to have broth that I made through boiling some carrot tops, squash rinds, onion skins and tops, various bones from meat, and kale ribs. Using this broth just means that I will want to cook longer to have the same thickness.
When it comes to tomatoes, ignore your recipe’s quantity. You are using all of your tomatoes. Core them and remove any parts that seem like they might be harmful to your health (you will find a little bit of mold, but it’s nothing to worry about. These tomatoes are dirt cheap, so be liberal with how much you cut off to avoid contamination). The finer you chop your tomatoes the slower the it will be to get through all of them. I didn’t chop my tomatoes at all. I left them whole after the coring and bad-part removal. As your pot becomes full of tomatoes, the immersion blender will handle the chopping. Push your blender down on the tomatoes and blend. When the tomatoes are mostly liquid you will want to swish around and make sure you can get the remaining ones hiding beneath the surface. If your pot gets full of liquid, split it between two pots.
Now cook on as high a heat as will not cause a mess from the bubbling. This heat will decrease as the sauce gets thicker. You can leave for a while and come back to stir now and then. The longer you cook the more liquid will evaporate and the thicker it will get. Lightly scrape the bottom to check for sticking. If it has burned a little bit you can still save it if you do not scrape the bottom too hard. If you do scrape the bottom too much, you can bring up the burned stuff and mix it with the rest of your sauce, giving it less of an intriguing smoky flavor than something more along the lines of eating liquefied charcoal.
Finally, unless you’re making pasta for somewhere between 16 and 40 people that same day, you’ll want to store this food for a decently long time. I like to separate it into jars and freeze it. You’ll notice that I have not completely filled the jars. I try to fill to a little bit below where the jar starts to get narrower as I have had jars break despite having no top simply from ice refusing to compromise with a narrowing jar. The below jars represent my first octuple recipe, which used a little less than half of my tomatoes.
Fair warning, you have to keep an eye on this while it’s reducing. If you let it get too bubbly when it’s really thick, it becomes a boiling hot eruption of tomato purée. A safer and faster thing that you can do if you find that it’s not thick enough is to cook pasta directly in the sauce itself. The pasta absorbs the moisture and the soupy sauce becomes a, well, a saucy sauce. I have found this does not lead to bubbling that is nearly so violent. Sure, starting with a very low heat and reducing it for a very long time is a safer option, but who has time for that?