What happened to the summer? Well, technically we still have exactly 19 days, but I'm not counting or anything. I am going into withdrawal. The best remedy is to make some tomato sauce. This one is quick and easy (and was recently published in the Boston Globe.)
Large boxes of tomatoes are everywhere now at farm stands and farmers’ markets and and they are tempting. Once you’ve hauled them home though, you may have buyer’s remorse. What can you possibly do with so many of them?
After you have eaten your fill, it’s pretty straightforward to roast them in the oven to make a sauce for pasta, baked fish, or even tomato soup come mid-February. If the tomatoes are very juicy (globe tomatoes), you will need to roast them in a deep baking dish, but if you use plum tomatoes, which have more flesh than juice, you can spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Figure on one cup of sauce per pound of tomatoes; even a small number of tomatoes can be saved from going past their prime with this simple method.
After you halve the tomatoes, you have two choices: tease out the seeds or leave them in. For a smooth sauce, you can pass the cooked tomatoes through a food mill, so no seeding is necessary. For a chunkier sauce, once the skins have come off you can either mash the tomatoes with a fork, or pulse them for a nano-second in a food processor. One advantage of roasting tomatoes for sauce is that the skins practically fall off the tomatoes, so no tedious peeling is necessary. Spoon the sauce into containers and freeze it for up to six months. Even after freezing, the sauce has a fresh summer taste that will make you long for tomato season to return.
p.s. My friend Simona Carini makes a comforting soup with tomatoes passed through a food mill. It's the kind of food I like to make when I'm too tired to cook on a cold February night. With sauce in the freezer, it's a gift from summer.
Roasted tomato sauce for the freezer
Makes about 4 cups
Olive oil (for the baking dishes, sheet pan)
4 pounds fresh globe, beefesteak, plum or other native tomatoes
A pinch of sugar
2 to 4 cloves garlic, or to taste
About 1/4 cup olive oil
3 to 4 sprigs of time
Torn basil leaves (optional)
1. Oil 2 baking dishes (9-by-13-inches) for round tomatoes, or 1 large rimmed baking sheet for plum tomatoes. Set the oven at 450 degrees.
2. Core the tomatoes and slice them in half crosswise. If you like, use your fingers to scrape out the seeds. (Leave the seeds in if you are going to pass the sauce through a food mill.) Place the tomatoes in the baking dishes or baking sheet, cut sides up, and sprinkle with salt. Turn the tomatoes over so the cut sides are down. Sprinkle with more salt and a few pinches of sugar.
3. Trim the root ends of the garlic cloves but leave the husks on. Place them in the baking dish or sheet. Tuck the thyme sprigs into the spaces between the tomatoes, and drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil.
4. Roast the tomatoes for 35 to 40 minutes, or until they are soft and their skins are loose and wrinkled. If the skins are slightly charred, that’s okay; so much the better for flavor.
5. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and cool them for about 10 minutes, or until they are no longer too hot to touch. While the tomatoes are still warm, pull off the skins. Remove and discard the thyme stems.
6. Working over a plate, use your fingers to squeeze the garlic cloves to release the soft centers from the husks. Discard the husks and mash the flesh with a fork.
7. With a fork, mash the tomatoes in the baking dish. Leave them a bit chunky so the sauce has some texture. Stir in the garlic. Or, pulse the tomatoes in a food processor until they are of a consistency you like. For a smooth sauce, pass the tomatoes through a food mill. Stir in the torn basil leaves, if you like.
8. If the tomatoes were particularly juicy and the sauce seems watery, pour it into a wide saucepan and simmer it until it thickens. Season with more salt, if you like. Spoon into containers and freeze for up to six months, or use immediately.