Tomatoes are a glorious food. A fruit that acts like a vegetable. They can go sweet or savory. They can be the star of a dish or a supporting role. When vine-ripened in the heat of summer, they need little more than salt and pepper to make them shine, but even a sad, mid-winter pale-pink grocery-store tomato can be made better with some cooking and proper seasoning. Some of the most delicious and simple foods begin with the tomato. Pan con tomate, literally a piece of grilled bread with olive oil and a fresh tomato rubbed over it, is a snack all over Spain. Salsas from Mexico, tomato tarts from France, fried green tomatoes in the South—all simple ingredients made to shine in a tomato-forward way.
Gardeners have a love/hate affair with tomatoes. While there is nothing more perfect than a home-grown tomato, there is always a huge amount of them all ripening at the speed of sound at the same time. One family can only possibly consume so many.
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Luckily, tomatoes are one of those things that do not suffer from canning. In fact, there are many brands of canned tomatoes that are superior to grocery-store fresh tomatoes. Canning can be a great way to preserve the flavor of summer for the months where fresh tomatoes in your area might be a little lacking.
There are plenty of recipes for canned tomatoes out there, but I want to give you my favorite. Which is less about the canning than it is about the prep. For me, the ideal canned tomato has rich vibrant tomato flavor, which is so present in a fresh ripe tomato, but can get a little wan in the canning process. Enter the roast-then-can method. Essentially, I slow roast my tomatoes with no seasoning or oil or other additions, to intensify the flavor and fully cook the tomatoes and make them hot, which allows me to simply layer them in jars and process in a water bath with some lemon juice or citric acid to retain color and maintain safe acidity. You can do this method for as many or as few tomatoes as you have. I have done it with as little as eight plum tomatoes, which cooks down into about one small jar, or as much as eight pounds of beefsteaks, making four quarts.
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The genius of this method is that the resulting tomatoes are ready to go. You can simply season them and use them however you like. Add some olive oil and chopped olives and you have a bruschetta topping. Some basil and garlic make them marinara. Onion and butter and you have a pasta sauce Marcella Hazan would be happy with. Salt and pepper and dried oregano and pizza sauce is at the ready. Puree with some sautéed shallot and you have a soup you can serve hot or cold. Add chopped cucumber, onion, sherry vinegar and olive oil and gazpacho just happened.
If you have never canned before, check out our handy canning guide for step-by-step instructions.
Canned Roasted Tomatoes
To prepare your tomatoes for canning, wash, core and halve all of your tomatoes, and arrange cut side down on rimmed baking sheets.
Preheat your oven to 250.
Slow-roast your tomatoes until the skins are wrinkled and the tomatoes have given up a bit of their juices, between 90 minutes for cherry tomatoes, to 2 to 2½ hours for plum or medium size, up to 3 to 3½ hours for larger tomatoes
Let cool on the pan just long enough so that you can gently remove the skins, which should come off easily. Using a spoon or a spatula, smash the tomatoes gently, just to help them release some of their juices, but don’t fully crush (unless you want canned crushed tomatoes, in which case, dump the peeled tomatoes into a bowl and have at them with a potato masher).
Arrange your sterilized jars and add your acid to the bottom. The general rule for tomatoes to ensure proper and safe acidity is 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice or ¼ teaspoon of citric acid per pint jar of tomatoes, or 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or ½ teaspoon of powdered citric acid per quart jar of tomatoes. NOTE: Be sure to use bottled lemon juice and not fresh for this. You need a pasteurized product for safety!
Add your still hot tomatoes to the jars, seal the lids, and then process either in a boiling water bath or pressure canner according to the directions for that method. I do mine in boiling water for 25 minutes for pint jars or 30 minutes for quarts.
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