Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Don’s Tomatoes

Today ... a rare treat! Our friend Don, who lives in Canberra, Australia, is a superb cook. He spoils his lovely wife Bev by showering her with bisous (a French culinary term for “Now you're cookin’!”) and with the magnificent meals he presents her (Ron does the same for me! I would rather have bisous than bijoux, any day! Look it up, Dollinks!).
Don - a rather distinguished fellow with a life a service to his country - has written many books on many subjects. His project of the moment is a cook book. When he sent me a few pages about tomatoes, I found them so eloquently written that I asked his permission to reprint them. I like the way Don tucks recipes here and there among his writing. For those of you who prefer a more straightforward approach, I’ve published my own (fabulous, Dollinks!) recipe for homemade sun-dried tomatoes in the posting below this one. My recipe is very much like Don's first recipe, but - for those of you who like specific measurements, I’ve given them. And now (whats the phrase?), without further ado, Dr. Donald Aitkin:
We like tomatoes and eat a lot of them, in every form - fresh, cooked, and processed. In the Fall, when cooking tomatoes were available at the markets for $10 for 10 kg (Translation: $10 for 22 pounds, Dollinks!), I made four different tomato dishes for storage, all without salt.
Roasted Tomatoes:  I loaded up two oven trays with tomatoes halved across, with the stem section cut out, lots of dried oregano, some pepper, and some olive oil. These were gently cooked in the oven until they'd lost most of their liquid - about four hours, maybe longer. They were then packed into freezer trays - the kind you get from the supermarket when you buy something from the delicatessen. With finely chopped garlic, fresh basil, and a dusting of Grana Padano Parmesan cheese, one tray full makes a wonderful pasta topping.
Tomato Purée: I added kilo (2.2 lb.) or so of chopped tomatoes, a chopped onion, and a few garlic cloves that had been sweating in olive oil on a low heat. I kept cooking until I thought the consistency was right for a purée. This is a matter of judgment, and if at the end you think it is too wet, put it all back into the pot to reduce it further. I then poured the mixture through a sieve and worked it until there were only seeds and skin left. The purée was then bottled (the bottles having been boiled first). I keep those useful small hexagonal jars that come with relish and chutney for this purpose. (My friend Don may or may not not know that - for reasons of food safety - tomatoes bottled like this must be processed in a boiling water bath. If they are not, they can safely be frozen - NP)

Ripe, red, and delicious!

Tomato Sauce:  More onion, garlic, and tomatoes, as before, but now some vinegar and sugar as well, plus dried oregano, basil, and pepper. There are some salt-free tomato sauce recipes on the Net, and I fiddled around with them until I had what seemed right to me for the quantity of tomatoes I had. Again, the goal is the right pouring consistency after sieving, so there is a lot of tasting, judging, and shaking of head. More boiled bottles. (Same safety proviso, Dollinks! - NP)
Tomato Relish:  Again, olive oil, chopped onion, garlic and herbs are the base, with the addition of spices such as mustard, mace, pepper, and ground cloves. How much you put in depends on how large a stock of tomatoes you have. This time I peeled the tomatoes, cutting a cross in the skin opposite the stem end and pouring boiling water over them, after which the skins came off easily. Also this time, there was to be no sieving. Some recipes add apple and capsicum (Translation: Bell pepper). I would have thrown in a chopped and peeled Granny Smith apple or two if I’d had any. I added both green and red capsicum. I used balsamic vinegar for this dish, and some brown sugar. Relishes are served cold, and need to have a spicy, sharp, but agreeable taste to go with something that is relatively bland (such as low-salt cheese!), so you need to remember that hot relish tastes even spicier than it does when it is cold. Again, I was after the right consistency, so there was boiling-down to do. Since I didn’t keep an accurate measure of what went in, I won’t be able to make exactly this relish again, but Bev and I agreed in advance that it would be sensational! The fun is in the creation! I used every useful bottle I’d saved for just such a use.
I probably used about a 2.5 kg (5-1/2 lb.) of tomatoes for each recipe, and since I did them all in one weekend, there was a lot of standing up in the kitchen. I’d forgotten about that! 
Elsewhere I have noted that tomatoes need salt to bring out their flavour, but that is a no-no for my Bev. It has to be said that the tomatoes available to buy are too green and hard and tasteless compared to those ones we might grow, but growing tomatoes is not really an option for us, given the size of our garden. The ones I bought for cooking were well on in their shelf life, so that although they weren’t much to look at, their flavour (Translation for my Dollink American readers: “flavor”) was better than the cricket balls that are normally on sale. And although we don’t use sugar very much at all, I do add sugar to tomatoes if I’m cooking them - just a teaspoon - because it brings out the flavour.
I find that shop-bought tomatoes are much better if they’re placed in a bowl and kept in the kitchen at room temperature for as long as a week! You need to turn them over every other day, so that you don’t get mould forming out of sight.
The best Tomato Sauce of all is a little fresh one (which also uses sugar) in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. What’s the difference? She proposes cooking them for just 15-to-20 minutes, while the herbs she uses are celery leaves and/or fresh parsley. I make this sauce without salt: It works well. But hers is a sauce you make for pasta or fish or whatever you’re going to eat at that meal, which is a different kind of sauce. It’s quite beautiful, with a light, fresh, almost creamy flavour.

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