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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?

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?

The End

September 26th, 2016

Well, we have our first frost advisory for tonight (Sunday night, which was last night). Luckily, I’ve been out all week harvesting all the remaining peppers, tomatoes, and beans. I’m amazed by the amount of green peppers I had on my plants, they totaled about a bushel. I had about the same amount of tomatoes.
first-frost-2
The peppers already made their way into the freezer, the green tomatoes are laying in wait till they ripen. I may make some green tomato chutney if I have the time.
first-frost-3
The hot peppers (cayenne and Korean bird peppers) are going to be dried for crumbling into curries and stews to add a little heat this coming winter. There’s actually something nice about having a frost, it’s a definite end to the season. Sometimes I need that to get me to finally rip out the tender plants and prepare for the coming winter.

When is your typical first frost?

Here They Come

August 22nd, 2016

Our hot summer has been difficult for some crops, but the tomatoes and peppers are loving it. It’s that time of the year when the tomatoes are fruiting in full. We can eat sliced tomatoes at every meal, enjoy tomatoes on top of a salad, make eggs in hell for breakfast, or in whatever way we want. Having fresh, vine ripened tomatoes is one of the joys of having an edible garden!
heirloom tomatoes 1
heirloom tomatoes 3
Not only are all the cherry and beefsteak tomatoes coming ripe, the roma types are starting to ripen as well. That means I’ll be making all sort of tomatoey deliciousness for the pantry.
heirloom tomatoes 2
heirloom tomatoes 4
One of the most wonderful things about seasonal eating is enjoying food at the height of its season. There’s really nothing as delicious as ‘Brandywine’ or ‘Gold Medal’ tomato plucked from the vine and eaten within minutes. This time of year we happily feast on fresh tomatoes knowing it’s a short, but delicious window. Probably our most favorite way to enjoy this bounty is sliced with a sprinkle of salt & pepper, simple and delicious!

What’s your favorite way to enjoy a vine ripened tomato?

Truly a Gold Medal Winner

October 14th, 2015

This is my first summer growing ‘Gold Medal’ tomatoes and it won’t be my last. In fact, I’ll never not have them growing in the garden. After trying this lovely tomato out, I know exactly how it received its name. For starters, this huge beefsteak tomato produced a ripe tomato around the same time that my cherry tomatoes were first ripening in the garden. If you’re a fan of heirloom beefsteaks, you know the patience required to wait for what seems like forever for one to finally ripen. Not this beauty, even with it’s gigantic size, it still ripened quicker than anything but the cherry tomatoes.
Gold Medal tomato
Not only does this delicious tomato ripen super early, it produces loads of tomatoes and it just keeps on producing. This photo was taken yesterday in my garden, yesterday. It’s mid October in Maine. My ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes quit producing tomatoes long ago, not this baby, it’s still flowering and setting fruit. If you live in a northern climate, especially one with cold spring and fall temperatures I’d highly recommend adding ‘Gold Medal’ to your list of must grow tomatoes. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed, in fact I’m guessing you’ll be singing its praises and will grow it every year.

What’s your favorite no fail tomato? 

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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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