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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?

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?

Whoa, Tomato….

August 30th, 2017

Last week I picked this crazy tomato, it looks like four or five tomatoes all grew into to. Then it had one tomato growing out of it on a stem, super strange, but oh so neat.


It weighed a whopping 3 pounds. This variety is a ‘Gold Medal’ and is one of my favorite beefsteak varieties. I have found that these tomatoes ripen 10-15 days ahead of the other beefsteaks (Cherokee Purple and Brandywine) in the garden. When you have a short tomato season like we do here in Maine, that’s a lot of tomato eating time! ‘Gold Medal’ also has a wonderful flavor, in fact, whenever I take them somewhere I always get comments on how good they are. If you live in a northern climate and want more delicious beefsteak tomatoes during the short season give this variety a try. I’ll be adding this variety to my seed collection next spring.

What’s your favorite kind of beefsteak tomato?

Harvesting Onions

August 9th, 2017

I finally got my internet back up and running, the technician said that pretty much every modem in our town was zapped by the big storm. After furiously catching up on work, I’m back to being able to post to the blog. The good thing about having minimal internet, is that it gave me time to get my onions harvested, which needed done…..last week. Storage onions should be given minimal water in the weeks leading up the harvest, this will help them store longer and better. I always try to harvest them early if a lot of rain is in the forecast. We had rain last weekend, a half an inch. So not tons given the dryness of the soil, but still more than I like for them to get. Ideally I prefer to harvest them after a long, hot dry week (which we had last week).

Even though the conditions weren’t ideal for harvest, they will store fine enough. Most likely they won’t last until next April, but they will last long enough to be used up. I should weigh my storage onions one of these years. It always seems like there are way too many of them to weigh. It would be nice to know how much I end up growing each year.

What are you harvesting in the garden this week?

Tucked In

August 1st, 2017

I’ve tried growing cauliflower for years, then a few years ago I read about ‘Bishop’ and finally achieved cauliflower success.  They’re supposed to be self-blanching heads, though I still tuck the leaves around the heads to make sure they’re nice and white.

I would harvest these, but I’m waiting on a few gallons of white wine vinegar. Pickled cauliflowers is one of our favorite winter time treats, all four heads I grew will be pickled and put into jars for winter eating. It’s perfect sautéed in a cast iron skillet as a side to bratwurst or some other kind of pork. I’ve always liked cauliflower, even when I was a kid. I can eat it pretty much eat it cooked in any way, or raw as well.

Are you a lover or a hater of cauliflower?

I use the recipe for pickled cauliflower from Well Preserved by Mary Dragan, but I add caraway and mustard seeds to the jars before canning.

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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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