Season’s End

The autumnal equinox occurred over the weekend, so it’s officially fall.  After a protracted spell of tropical heat and humidity all summer here in New England, it was like someone flipped a switch and Sunday morning it was brisk enough for me to make a pot of hot coffee instead of going out for the iced cold brew I drink through the warm months.  The end of summer also means the end of fresh local tomatoes, which peak in late August here but keep going through September.  I wait for September every year to make a big batch of roasted tomato sauce with local plum tomatoes, and this year I also managed to get to the vegetable market in time to buy some more to make a delicious cream of tomato soup that we ate for dinner last night as the temperatures plunged down into the 40s for the first time in months.

I’ve been making roasted tomato sauce every year for maybe the last dozen years.  It’s fun to have food traditions like this.  Unlike a lot of home cooks, I don’t do a lot of holiday cooking (for a variety of reasons), so instead I have these more seasonal cooking traditions to enjoy. For example, I also make a kirschkuchen (a sort of sheet cake loaded with fresh cherries) every summer and a few other things.  I do not recall exactly where the roasted tomato sauce recipe came from in the first place, so I can’t really give anyone credit, but it’s definitely worthwhile.  The tomatoes roast, along with loads of chopped onions, garlic, shallots and herbs for a couple of hours and the aroma is indescribably good.

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You need about four to five dozen ripe plum tomatoes.  Cut them into quarters and arrange on two half-sheet pans.  Finely chop a large onion (I usually use a Vidalia), two or three big shallots, and some garlic (as much or as little as you want, I have used up to an entire head, though this year I went easy on the garlic) and spread them liberally over the tomatoes.  Chop some fresh basil and fresh oregano (again, no set amount, but I probably use half a cup of chopped basil and maybe a third of a cup of chopped oregano) and sprinkle all over the tomatoes.  Drizzle olive oil over the whole thing and roast in a 375 degree oven for two hours. After one hour, check the tomatoes and swap the sheet pans from one rack to the other.  If you like a little char, roast them at 400, but keep an eye on them in the second hour to make sure they don’t burn.

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Once the tomatoes have finished roasting, grind them through a food mill or process them in your food processor (working in batches) until they everything is pureed.  Put the sauce in a large saucepan.  Deglaze the baking sheets with some white wine and scrape up all the caramelized bits and add that to the pan.  Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for an hour.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  This sauce is especially good in baked pasta dishes, and freezes nicely so you can package it up for multiple uses.

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Last night’s cream of tomato soup is adapted from a recipe I found here. I changed up the aromatics slightly to use a Vidalia onion instead of a red onion and included one diced stalk of celery, and used lactose-free half-and-half instead of almond milk (I hate almond milk).  Using an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot saves a lot of cleanup, too.  The soup is so great with fresh tomatoes, but I might even try it with canned tomatoes over the winter.  This particular recipe makes four generous bowls of soup, so there was enough left for one leftover serving from our meal.

I should have more cooking projects to share with you soon.

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