Call it a plum tomato because of its plum-like size and shape. Call it a paste tomato because that’s what it often becomes — tomato paste. But never underestimate its usefulness. If there were ever a survival tomato, this is the one.
Whether you grow the bush type or the vining type, you’re likely to end up with lots of tomatoes. You might choose one of the tried-and-true heirloom varieties such as Amish Paste or San Marzano, or one of the modern disease-resistant hybrids. But at some point later in summer, when the plant’s branches are drooping to the ground with small oval fruits, you’ll know it’s time to make and store some tomato sauce or paste, capturing all that summery goodness for winter eating.
If you missed the paste tomato boat for this season, make a note when ordering seeds this winter to grow a variety or two in 2013.
Known more for its meaty texture than its flavor, a paste tomato has much less water than the other types, such as the juicy beefsteaks. This dryness makes it reduce much more quickly, allowing you to turn off the heat under that big stockpot in the afternoon of a sauce-making day, as opposed to midnight. And what a way to face cold weather, armed with rows of bright red glass jars in the pantry or freezer.
But even before red sauce time, a lot of plum tomatoes have started to ripen, and you hate to see them go to waste. You could try your hand at drying them. I’ve done this in a food dehydrator, and the result is a morsel a bit less pliant than the commercial version, but soft enough to nibble and worth rehydrating for winter dishes.
But how about enjoying them now? To me, the best reason to grow plum tomatoes is to roast them in the oven and eat them as soon as they are cool enough to avoid burning your tongue. Nothing could be simpler. Just cut a bit off the stem ends of the fruits, slice them lengthwise, and place them on an olive-oil-smeared baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle them with more olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and herbs, then set them in a 350 degree oven for about two hours (or roast at a lower temperature for longer).
It’s okay for them to blacken a little bit, thanks to the sugar they contain, but take them out before they have reduced by more than half their size, while their bottoms are still pilllowy with concentrated juice. Put them in sandwiches, toss them with pasta, stir them into a curry, paella or jambalaya — they make everything taste better. Or just set out a plate of them out as an antipasto before a meal.
Oven-roasting is one of the great kitchen techniques, because it concentrates the flavor of things and makes even inferior vegetables taste good. But apply it to well-grown organic tomatoes from your own garden and they will be sublime.
Damrosch is a freelance writer and author of “The Garden Primer.”
To delay flowering and bolting of sweet basil plants, continue to harvest stem tips regularly. This will also make plants fuller and flushed with young, sweet growth. Also, plant seedlings of new plants to prolong the harvest into October.
— Adrian Higgins