You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto...

Never say never. Just last week, I was comparing kitchen notes with a friend of mine, who has an equally impressive collection of cooking implements and utensils. It seemed that the only items on which we diverged were our preferred tools for making mashed potatoes. His vote went to the food mill, which has the added benefit of straining out seeds and skins for jam-making and creating homemade apple sauce. A fine, multi-tasking choice, but given that I never make any of those other foods, my vote went to the potato ricer, the device preferred by Alton Brown, one of my food idols. I razzed him a little bit about his preference for the food mill, and proclaimed that I would never be in the market for one myself.

Flash forward to last night, when I sent Justin on an emergency trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to procure a last-minute food mill. Unexpectedly, we had found ourselves in possession of a huge bag of homegrown garden tomatoes, a gift from some family friends with whom we had had dinner. Given that I hate raw tomatoes, there was no way that Justin would be able to eat the entire bounty on his own, especially considering that they were already extremely ripe and on the verge of spoiling. The only solution I could come up with was to turn the tomatoes into tomato sauce -- something we would both eat.

Because the tomatoes consisted of an assortment of cherry, plum, and other small heirloom varieties, I immediately thought of an old episode of Good Eats I'd seen years ago, when Alton Brown turned a batch of Roma tomatoes into an unusual sauce by roasting them in the oven instead of simmering them on the stove. I'd always been curious about it, but was too dedicated to my mother's spaghetti recipe, which calls for doctoring up a bottle of Ragu, to ever get around to trying it. Now, with a bag of rapidly deteriorating tomatoes gracing my counter, it seemed that the time for Alton's recipe had finally arrived.

The only catch was that the recipe called for a food mill to remove all the skins and seeds while grinding the roasted tomatoes, garlic, onion, and herbs into a puree that might properly be called a sauce. Much as it pained me to do so, I sent Justin to the store to purchase one while I got started on the sauce. With a nearly three hour prep time for the recipe, I needed to get started right away, or else I would have been up into the wee hours of the evening working on it, and nobody wants to do that on a work night.

While roasting the tomatoes, a heavenly aroma emanated out of the oven, that seemed to be most promising. My new, OXO brand food mill worked like a dream, creating a smooth, luscious sauce. The only problem was that the recipe ultimately yielded so little. Since my tomatoes had been on the petite side, I used more than the recipe called for, but it proved to not be enough. I ended up with approximately enough sauce to dress one and a half servings of pasta. Hardly enough to make all the hours of effort worthwhile. 

The sauce did have a beautiful complexity, and I loved the herbal notes brought about by the addition of thyme in addition to the standard oregano. I might consider making it again in the future with bigger tomatoes, to see if I could increase the yield, otherwise, I'm not sure all that effort would be worth it. Making it again would, however, give me another opportunity to use my new food mill. Otherwise, I'm going to have to take up home canning or something in order to justify the purchase and the space it is currently taking up in my cabinets...

Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce
adapted from Alton Brown

20 Roma tomatoes, halved
1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 c. finely diced onion
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon vodka

Preheat oven to 325.

In 2 (13x9-inch) pans place tomato halves cut side up. Sprinkle with oil, salt and pepper, onion, garlic, and herbs. Bake tomatoes for 2 hours. Check the tomatoes after 1 hour and turn down the heat if they seem to be cooking too quickly. Then turn the oven to 400 degrees and bake another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and process tomatoes through a food mill on medium dye setting over a small saucepan. Discard skins and seeds. Add vodka, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes.

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