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Making Tomato Conserva

September 19th, 2017

Many years ago, I purchased the book ‘Cooking by Hand’ by Paul Bertolli. This book is part cookbook, part biography, part cooking theory; recipes are interspersed with stories of how they came about and recommendations and theories for making food even more delicious. While reading through the section on tomatoes, I came across the recipe for Conserva and immediately knew I wanted to make it. It’s not a difficult recipe, but it does take some time. The final product makes it worth every single minute, you won’t find a better way to preserve tomatoes.

This rich, concentrated tomato paste (though calling it paste is a bit derogatory as it’s nothing like canned tomato paste), is like a ripe summer tomato intensified in a jar. Because it’s not cooked at a really high temperature, it has a completely different flavor than many cooked tomato sauces. The sugars seems to intensify and the fresh tomato flavor comes through quite clearly. Overall I’d say it’s much brighter than other cooked and canned tomato products, which almost end up with a heavy bitterness from the heat of cooking. Conserva is a bit of summer tomato heaven in the middle of our long Maine winters. It is such a versatile pantry staples; a small spoonful can be stirred into sauces to add a richness and depth of flavor, add it to canned tomato sauces to make it thicker, a spoonful in broth will add another layer of flavor to soup. We really enjoy it spread on sandwiches made of olive bread, eggs, arugula, bacon, and cheese (a bit of a BLT with conserva taking the place of fresh tomato).

In the book his recipe starts with 5 pounds of tomatoes, I find this size of a batch to be way to small. The final product is only about a cup of concentrate. I always double it, both because I want lots of it in my pantry, and because I like to maximize my time. If I have the oven on for 7 hours, I may as well have it full. Typically, my batches start with 10 pounds of tomatoes (though I make two 5 lb batches separately and put them in the oven together), from this amount I end up with a pint of conserva. Generally, I make 3-4 batches each summer. I also add a branch of a tomato plant in the pan, it adds a wonderfully deep tomato flavor to the final product. Contrary to popular belief, the stems and leaves of tomato plants are not poisonous.

Here’s the basics recipe:
Dice 5 pounds mixed tomatoes, some paste, some canning, into small pieces. Add a splash of good olive oil to a large pan, pour in tomatoes, add a small tomato branch with leaves, sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of sea salt. Bring them to a rapid boil and cook for 2 minutes. Put through smallest plate on a food mill, there should be no seeds in the final puree. (If you’ve been looking for a nice stainless steel food mill, I highly recommend this one from Matfer. I bought mine 7-8 years ago and LOVE it. Previously, I was using an old aluminum Squeez-O and wasn’t super keen on my food coming into contact with the aluminum. I use this one all the time, for making applesauce, pumpkin puree, tomato puree, and pureeing soups.)

Lightly oil a large casserole dish, I prefer to use glass since tomatoes are very acidic. (My favorite are these borosilicate glass pans from Marinex, I have several of them and use them constantly.) Pour puree into pan, place into a 300 degree oven, convection is best, but not necessary, but it will take longer in a regular oven. Cook for 3 hours, if not using convection add another hour or two to the time. Stir occasionally with a spatula, when you notice the surface start to darken, reduce heat to 250 and continue cooking for another 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until it is thick, shiny, and brick-colored. Your final amount will be about 1/10 of what you started with, 1 cup of paste is about what you will end up with this batch (which is why I always double it).

Put conserva into a glass jar carefully pressing out any air pockets, cover with 1/2 inch of good olive oil. Paul recommends keeping the conserva in the pantry if you have a cool, dark space. As long as you maintain the 1/2 inch layer of olive oil on top it should keep. I keep mine in the fridge because my pantry isn’t always cool. Mine always lasts a year in the fridge if I am careful to maintain a layer of olive oil on top.

It seems a little complicated, but it’s not at all. In fact, most of the time is spent waiting and occasionally checking on the conserva in the oven. I make 3-4 double batches each year, it’s a staple in our pantry.

What’s your favorite way to preserve tomatoes for winter?

Bringing in the Sheaves…Or Other Veg

September 18th, 2017

We’ve been having beautiful weather here in Maine, in the low 80’s during the day and in the 50’s at night. I was planning on pulling all tomatoes and peppers last week, but with the beautiful weather, I decided to leave them. I did pick all the ripe fruit, but decided to leave the unripe fruits on the vine/plants to ripen up.


My pumpkins and other squash are starting to ripen as well. I have been a bit worried about my ‘Musque de Provence’ pumpkins are a long season variety and they are just starting to blush with color. I’ve had my fingers crossed that the weather would stay warm so they would fully ripen. Everything else is coming along well, fall broccoli and lettuces are sizing up. The third planting of fennel will be ready in month or so.

These last months in the garden are always full of activity, which need to be balanced with work preserving all the bounty.

How’s the harvest coming in your garden?

Quote of the Day: Tamar Adler

September 17th, 2017

“Eggs should be laid by chickens that have as much say in it as any of us about our egg laying does. Their yolks should, depending on the time of year, range from buttercup yellow to marigold. They should come from as nearby as possible. WE don’t all live near cattle ranches, but most of us live surprisingly close to someone raising chickens for eggs. If you find lively eggs from local chickens, buy them. They will be a good deal more than edible.”

Tamar Adler in An Everlasting Meal


Before we had our own chickens, we purchased chicken from a local farm. Eggs from happy chickens are really much more flavorful than those from the factory farms.

We now have our own flock, which range quite happily on a fairly large plot behind a few hundred feet of electric net fencing (not technically “free” ranging, as the foxes nab them if they do, but close enough). There are between 15-30 of them laying between half to two dozen eggs a day, depending on the time of year and the age of the flock. Eggs are on the breakfast menu daily, usually with a side of some sort of vegetable from the garden or a piece of bread from the oven. Sometimes they’re made into omelets to use up small bits of leftover dinner that aren’t enough to make another entire meal in itself. Pot roast with vegetables makes a surprisingly good omelet, especially with some fresh parsley on top.

In the summer, when we are flush with eggs, I sell them to a few friends. These friends claim they are “the best eggs they’ve ever had” and some won’t even give my name out to their friends in fear that they won’t be able to get eggs if they do. My belief is that the eggs are good because the chickens are happy and enjoying very chickeny lives (the homemade fermented feed is also a big part of it as well). I’m happy that my little flock produces enough eggs for us and for a few friends. Good eggs are worth sourcing wherever you live.

Do you have your own egg layers or do you have a good source for good eggs?

Drowning in Poblano Peppers

September 14th, 2017

I always love growing poblano peppers, they are one of my favorites to use in chili, salsa, and other Mexican inspired dishes. I like to have a gallon or two of cut up poblanos in the freezer ready to use all winter long. This year I planted four ‘Baron’ plants, expecting a semi-decent harvest (seed was purchased from Johnny’s Seeds). Little did I know that these peppers would do better than any other pepper in the garden and I’d be drowning in them.

We’ve been harvesting them and roasting them on the grill, which is working beautifully. At least half of them will be preserved this way. After grilling, they are peeled, seeded, cut in half, then frozen.

The rest will be processed in the usually fashion, just like green peppers. I’ll seed then, slice them, and freeze them on a cookie sheet then transfer them to bags. This way I can scoop out what I need each time, not premeasuring needed.


Since we also have quite a stockpile of ground venison in the freezer from last year, it looks like venison chili will be on the menu quite often this coming winter.

What vegetables seem extra productive in your garden this year?

Uncle Guinea

September 13th, 2017

We have one guinea fowl left out of our original flock. We got some the first year we moved in and have had them ever since. They can be loud, obnoxious, and annoying, but in general we find them to be important to the garden. When there’s a large group they range freely over a very large area and do a fantastic job keeping the tick population under control. They don’t tear up the garden and eat crops like chickens and turkeys do. Their most value comes in their ability to alert to any kind of danger, which helps keep all the other birds safe.

Currently, we have only one remaining guinea, a male. We’ve always heard to never have lone males, because they are the most obnoxious. That has not been our experience, he’s actually quite nice and a real asset to our flock. He’s super protective of all of our birds, but with the baby ducks in particular. In fact, we have taken to calling him “Uncle Guinea”.

Whenever Mama Duck hatches out littles, he follows them around. When they get a little bigger and start popping through the fence and roaming over a larger territory, he follows right alongside them. If the tiny flock separates, he follows one group while Mama Duck follows the other. It’s really fun to watch how his protective nature is most fierce when there are baby ducklings. He’s been “Uncle Guinea” for several summers so, we’re always happy to see him step up into that role whenever the baby ducks are around.

What fun things are going on in your garden this week?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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