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Cooking with abundance.  Extending the harvest.  Whatever you want to call it. This is really just about making use of what we have, not wasting it, and saving something for later on by – cooking it, boiling it, preserving it, freezing it. In this case tomatoes – fantastically ruby rich, ripe tomatoes and, right now, very cheap, – which is very good for us cooks, but not so good for the growers.  So let’s help them out, those hardworking folk who grow the food to put on our tables, by buying up big when they have plenty, and turning it into something useful and delicious – not wasting it.

When I turned up at the Mullumbimby Farmers Market last week, the lovely Heather from Coopers Shoot Tomatoes, said she cried on Monday morning when she looked out into her fields at the sea of red waiting to be picked – acres of it . The reason? We have had an incredibly hot and dry winter, with an abundance of produce that would normally ripen slowly through winter and spring but is here, right now, in a glut for just a few weeks – mountains of them. Oh, and there is no such thing as climate change – discuss??

A comment from Heather got me cooking.  Here she was surrounded by truckloads of tomatoes and in a few weeks time she will have very little to offer her customers, and while sympathetic, she is always a little frustrated when her customers are disappointed when the season is over – “don’t you have any tomatoes” they wail?  Heather’s point was that we seem to have lost the art and traditions of older generations of saving food in season for a rainy day – something for later on.

Hardworking Heather from Cooper’s Shoot Tomatoes

Speak to anyone from an Italian background and they will reminisce about passata making days – when summer ripe tomatoes turned into sauce.  The whole family gathered around to process the tomato harvest and store it for a rainy day – those dark, cold days of winter with rock hard soil and very little happening in the kitchen garden.  Open a jar of passata from the pantry and summer was brought right back into the kitchen.

I made two kinds of fresh tomato sauce with my 12kg of tomatoes, roasted and boiled, but instead of preserving it by then boiling it in sealed glass jars, the traditional way of making passata , I added some flavouring, then simply divided it into containers and popped it in the freezer for later on.

Traditional passata is just pureed tomato.  My tomato sauces have herbs, onion, garlic and spices that just make a short cut to so many meals.  Give it a tryIt’s easy – no chopping!!

Fresh tomato sauce – boiled
  • Ripe, washed tomatoes
  • 2 large, brown onions ( for 6kg tomatoes)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 bay leaves (fresh is best)
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1/4 cup soft brown sugar
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
Method
  1. Put peeled onion and garlic in a food processor and blitz until finely chopped.
  2. Heat the olive in a large saucepan and saute the onion and garlic until cooked through, but not brown.
  3. Blitz the tomatoes in the food processor – you may have to do this in batches, then pour into the cooking onions and garlic.
  4. Add the bay leaves, thyme, sugar,  salt and pepper (you can add some chilli powder if you want a spicy sauce)
  5. Cook on a gentle heat until a lot of the tomato liquid has evaporated, the sauce becomes thicker, and the oil rises to the top of the pan – then it is ready.  This may take an hour or so depending on your tomatoes.

As you can see this is incredibly easy.  When it has cooled, you simply portion up into containers and pop it in the freezer.  I use this sauce for meatballs with pasta, as a base for a taco filling, as a sauce over schnitzel – or wherever I need passata.

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Fresh tomato sauce with roasted tomatoes
  • 6 kg fresh, ripe tomatoes
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 long red chillies
  • handful of fresh or dried oregano and thyme leaves
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt to taste
Method
  1. Heat your oven to 190 degrees.
  2. Roughly cut the tomatoes into quarters.
  3. Put the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt in a large bowl and toss the tomatoes to coat.
  4. Put the tomatoes in roasting trays and place them in the oven adding the peeled garlic, whole chilli – with the top cut off.  If your chilli is very hot – try it on the tip of your tongue – then de-seed it before you roast it.  Add the oregano.
  5. Roast in the oven until tomatoes have shrunk and the edges are beginning to go brown.  This will take 45 minutes to one hour depending on your tomatoes.
  6. Remove from the oven and tip everything back into the bowl then blitz with a stick blender.  It should be darker in colour and thicker than the boiled sauce.
  7. Again, I just let this cool and then batch it up for the freezer.

This is a delicious sauce by itself with pasta – or add some grilled eggplant and fresh mozzarella.  Particularly good with fresh basil and sweet marjoram.  I use this too as my base for pizzas.  I also put a dollop on mezze platters with hummus and Middle Eastern breads and salads.

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