PERHAPS THE MOST practical of garden vegetables, and one of the most prolific, is the tomato, and the larger the crop the better. Tomatoes are not only delicious fresh during the summer, but all winter too.
I have tried making just about everything with tomatoes, and the most successful is my homemade ketchup. I also make a very simple and successful tomato juice. It isn't something I serve to guests very often; it seems too precious for that, and it is certainly not for making bloody marys. It is for quiet sipping on a Sunday morning in the garden before going in to make breakfast for the kids.
The most practical tomato product I can is my tomato sauce. It is a cross between what professional chefs call a "concasse" -- that is, very gently cooked diced tomatoes with a little onion for flavor -- and a more vegetable-flavored Italian marinara. It is as close as I can come to having a fresh tomatoes on hand all year. TOMATO JUICE (Makes approximately 1 gallon) 1 peck (9 or 10 quarts) ripe italian plum tomatoes Salt, optional Freshly ground black pepper 1 or 2 lemons Sugar
Wash the tomatoes, and cut away any green or yellow parts. Cut into quarters and toss into a large stainless steel container. To extract the juice, feed the tomatoes through the finest blade of a food mill. Save the pulp until all the tomatoes have gone through the mill, then force the pulp through again to get any remaining juice. Strain and taste. Add salt -- begin with a teaspoon and add more little by little. Next, season with freshly ground black pepper -- starting with about 3/4 teaspoon. Add the juice of a lemon or two, depending on how acidic you like the juice. (I don't use salt, so I use considerably more black pepper and lemon juice than suggested above.) Finally, a few tablespoons of sugar, if you like. Bring to a boil, pour hot juice into hot clean jars leaving 1/2 inch head space. Process pint jars and quarts 35 minutes.* TOMATO SAUCE (Makes about 4 quarts) 1 peck (9-10 quarts) ripe italian plum tomatoes 2/3 cup good quality olive oil 5-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped 4 large yellow onions, finely chopped 1 tablespoon crushed dried thyme, or a scant 1/4 cup fresh, finely chopped thyme leaves 1/4 cup crushed dried basil, or 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil Salt, optional Freshly ground black pepper
Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water, a few at a time, Remove and peel, then cut away any yellow or green parts and squeeze out the seeds. Chop very coarsely.
Heat the oil and add the garlic and onions. Saute' until tender but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the onions and the thyme. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove abut half the mixture and pure'e. Return pure'ed sauce to the pot and add the basil, salt if using, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for about another 20 or so minutes until sauce reaches the desired degree of thickness.
Pour hot sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Process 1/2 pints 30 minutes in a boiling water bath.* KETCHUP (Makes 1/2 pint) 2 pounds tomatoes (preferably italian plum), cored and chopped 1 medium onion, chopped 4 garlic cloves, chopped Juice of 1 orange 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 1 tablespoon sugar 3 whole cloves and 2-inch stick cinnamon, tied in cheesecloth 1/2 teaspoon oregano 2 bay leaves 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped 1 teaspoon mustard seeds 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Combine the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a large non-aluminum pot and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally as the tomatoes exude their juices. Keep the pot partially covered during this first part of the cooking.
Uncover, add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Reduce heat to very low and cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or longer, until; a thick chunky ketchup forms. Stir about every 30 minutes. The heat should be so low that the ketchup gives off steam but never shows signs of bubbles rising to the surface.
Remove the cheesecloth and pure'e the ketchup until very smooth in a blender or food processor.
Or, make 5 times this recipe, pour into hot clean jars, process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.*
*Note: Recommended processing times from the Food Preservation Hotline, Fairfax County Cooperative Exentsion Service.