Preserving Fresh Tomatoes For Winter Use

Fancy The Taste Of Summer In Winter?

preserving fresh tomatoesThere is something utterly luxurious about picking a ripe tomato, all warm from the sun and eating it right then, as fresh as it could possibly be.

I’ve never managed to replicate that special summer sun flavor any other way – I don’t think you can, but some ways of preserving fresh tomatoes for winter retain flavor better than others and with so many new tomatoes varieties being heritage based, it also depends on what you have available.

With tomatoes you are looking at drying, freezing, canning or cooking then freezing or canning – personally I like the options that cost the least time and money yet offers the best return on flavor, after all a lot of work went into producing them.

Small yellow cherry tomatoes are probably best just eaten as soon as you pick them – they are so sweet and pungent with flavor, nothing any human intervention could do is going to improve on them. But you can dry them either in a very low heat oven or better still using a home food dehydrator.

We grow plenty of big deep red beefsteak tomatoes because in my opinion, they make the best fresh tomato sauce – a brilliant way of recreating summer flavors on your plate when it’s snowing outside.

Carefully frozen it keeps well until the next lot are ready and the sauce is superb with meatballs, pasta, on pizza or as a base sauce for any fish.

using fresh tomato sauceIf you are drying large amounts of tomatoes, allow me to recommend a good mandoline slicer to prepare them with. The slices will be even which in turn makes drying them more efficient, plus it won’t take you all day to get them done.

For larger more solid items like meat or a block of cheese – even fresh bread, I’m inclined to use the home food slicer, it really is a matter of choosing the right tool for the job!

Once dry, (this goes for all tomatoes) you can pack them into a jar of olive oil which will simultaneously rehydrate and preserve them to use in whatever way you wish – adding a few peppercorns and a clove of garlic gives the oil a delicate subtle aroma which is delish over salad, you can use it to cook with or drizzle it over warm Ciabatta – divine – spritz the oil if dieting.

Canning tomatoes is still popular with a lot of people and If time allowed I’d do more myself. But it is labor intensive and time consuming so the tomatoes I would historically have put in cans, now get made into sauces which for me is easier and a heck of a lot faster.

Once made into sauce then apportioned and frozen. Once solid I use a food vacuum sealer to shut all the air out, then return them to the freezer where they’ll keep in pristine condition for months – if they were allowed to…

There are hundreds of recipes for fresh tomato sauce, many of which I’ve tried and tweaked to get that intense tomato flavor. However, the recipe I’ve been using since I found it years ago, is from a renown British home cook Delia Smith – and it really is awesome – try it for yourself!

fresh tomato sauceDelia Smith’s Fresh Tomato Sauce

  • 2 lb 8 oz (1.15 kg) fresh, red, ripe tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • 1 medium onion weighing about 4 oz (110 g), peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 or 2 fat cloves garlic to taste – peeled and crushed
  • Approximately 12 large leaves of fresh basil
  • Parmesan to serve

1.  First skin the tomatoes. To do this, pour boiling water over them and leave them for exactly 1 minute or, if the tomatoes are small, 15-30 seconds, before draining and slipping off their skins (protect your hands with a cloth if they are too hot). Now reserve 3 of the tomatoes for later and roughly chop the rest. Alternatively use a kitchen blow torch for a few seconds – don’t hold them while you do it!

2.  Next heat the oil in a medium saucepan, then add the onion and garlic and let them gently cook for 5-6 minutes, until they are softened and pale gold in color.

* If you are counting the calories, omit the tablespoon of oil and use an oil spritzer instead – you’ll save 120 calories for each tablespoon of oil you don’t use. You can find out more about my best rated oil mister in this post – they are less than $10 and worth it every time you step float onto the scales!

3.  Now add the chopped tomatoes with about a third of the basil, torn into pieces. Add some salt and freshly milled black pepper, then all you do is let the tomatoes simmer on a very low heat, without a lid, for approximately 1½ hours or until almost all the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are reduced to a thick, jam-like consistency, stirring now and then.

4.  Roughly chop the reserved fresh tomatoes and stir them in, along with the rest of the torn basil leaves, and serve on pasta with a hint of Parmesan – not too much, though, because it will detract from the wonderful tomato flavor.

Note: When serving this sauce, it is a good idea to give the pasta one minute less cooking time than you usually would, then return it to the saucepan after draining and give one more minute while you mix in the sauce.

Do try it, this is a classic recipe and concentrates the rich taste of tomatoes like no other – if you like it there are plenty more  free Delia Smith recipes here.

There’s more information and my essential tips on the Food Dehydrator Buying Guide and you’ll find product reviews and further tips on choosing a food dehydrator  –  so help yourself to a read and find out more.

Update

what can i do with green tomatoesBut what can I do with green tomatoes?

For those with a glut of green tomatoes looming, there’s a post here on things you can do with green tomatoes and a recipe for making a batch of gorgeous green tomato chutney, this recipe uses zucchini as well so it’s a win win!

If you have any questions or would like to suggest another recipe, I’d love to hear from you – just drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you. Right now I’m up to my neck in tomatoes!