Summer is probably really over. All kinds of summery things like swimming and lolling around, or at least the potential to loll, are all done with. It’s misty and cool in the morning and evening and the basil looks all done in. But there are some matters of summer still to be dealt with.
Canning, for instance, just seems to go and go; there’s all that summer sun and light trapped in the skin of various fruits, and my baskets runneth over. If tomatillos are pouring into your kitchen, I have only the most glowing and positive things to say about this tomatillo salsa, another harvest from one of Marisa’s awesome linkfests.
I made some plum glop, my version of not quite jam but almost (the version where you don’t care if it sets or not), with the last dregs of the basil so it can offer a little ooh-la-la to the winter oatmeal, and I wish this plum movie was in Smellovision for you:
But I called this meeting to talk about tomatoes. If you are lucky enough to have one more bucketload of tomatoes to manage, there are a lot of things I can tell you about what to do with them. Further thanks to Marisa, I encountered the best tomato sauce for canning that I have ever played with, and we’ve also roasted and frozen sheets of the littler fellers.
But if you are dealing with not quite enough tomatoes for canning, or what’s likely to be the last real tomatoes you see until the sun comes around again, here is the tomato sauce my dear little Italian mamma used to make me when I was a bambina. (All true except for the part of the story where she is Italian. I think it originally came from Marcella Hazan, though, who was bona fide Italian, so even that part is not ENTIRELY not true.) It can only work with real tomatoes, just-picked gorgeous real tomatoes from nearby, that come to you when it is hot enough for that to be happening yet cool enough for you to want hot pasta for dinner. In that sense, it is Walker Evans tomato sauce.
“There’s a wonderful secret here and I can capture it,” Evans told an interviewer in 1971. “Only I can do it at this moment, only this moment and only me.”
It is stunningly simple, the only trick being resisting the temptation to make it more complicated. No garlic. No herbs. No sautéeing or mincing.
You just cut up enough tomatoes to fill a nice big pot, and add an inch (no more!) of water to the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching as they start to cook down, and then cover and cook them until they utterly collapse, as above.
Then you mill them.
What you may want to do now is spread this stuff you milled out onto a thick piece of toast with some stinky cheese:
Or maybe that is just me. Either way, your next step is to take the smooth puree you created, and drop a whole, peeled onion into it (try to peel it with its ends intact, so it stays whole), and simmer the whole thing, stirring every few minutes, until it is reduced by at least 1/3 and (depending on how watery your tomatoes were, which can vary a lot), as much as 1/2.
When it is reduced enough to have some noticeable thickness, which I can’t really define for you other than to say it won’t be watery anymore, and it will look like sauce, you extract the now worthless onion and then into the puree you put the barest hint of salt, just enough to wake it up and add a little harmony to the sweetness, and (this is the key) a righteous little knob of excellent unsalted butter, a tablespoon or so, just enough to swirl in comfortably and give it a little sheen.
And right now you are maybe thinking ‘what?! no BASIL?” or maybe “no GARLIC?!” or something like that, or you are tempted to reach for a lot of cheese, or substitute olive oil for the butter, but this is just
T O M A T O sauce.
The butter gives a subtle little shove to the tomato-ness, not as overpoweringly as cream would, but with a similar effect on your (or my, anyway) inclination to lick your paws and curl up on the top of the laundry basket.
My daughters are each in their own way quite practical, especially when it comes to worrying, which—and I don’t mean to toot my own horn here at all–I raise to Olympic levels. They take after their father more in this regard, mercifully, being much more judicious in terms of what they worry over or tolerate others worrying about. After learning I was born on a Wednesday, some years ago one of them crayoned me up a sign that said “Just Say No to Woe,” which I would show you here but our photos are not at all organized, which I am pretty worried about.
Anyway, back in the days when I kept a flower garden, I had a hibiscus plant. I may still have it. Hard to say. But when the girls were small it was glorious, several feet high and blooms as wide across as soup bowls. Every fall, I did as I was told (that right there should give you a sense of how long ago this was) and cut it straight back to the ground. In the spring, there followed several anxious weeks of peering at the spot where it had been, wondering if I had killed it. My oldest caught me at this once, and I explained that every fall I hacked it down and every spring I worried that it was daid. “But it always comes back?” she asked, and I told her that it did. “Maybe,” she said gently, “you can stop worrying about that now.”
She was right, of course. I could, and I did, and consequently I freed up a little mental bandwidth to worry pointlessly about some new and different things.
Most summers, for example, I worry that I have not canned anything at all and the summer is going by and no food has been stored and there goes another year wasted. People start posting jam recipes hither and thither in June, chutney this and jelly that, and on they go when I do not even know where the beach towels got stored last year, let alone where the jar lid magnet got to.
Then late August rolls around, and with it tomatoes, peaches, apples, pears and quinces, and I remember that I never can in June or July or even, functionally, August. Labor Day is the real starting bell.
It’s true that I hardly did justice to the berries this year, which are a July phenomenon and which I generally freeze by the bucketload. It’s been an exceptionally sad, busy, tiring year and it was hard enough to make lunch or do laundry, and I did let the berry train pass right by, for the most part. But in canning terms the peals of the starting bell are just ringing out now, really. The wild rumpus only beginning. And so forth. So I don’t have to worry, or anyway not about that.
This weekend Mr. Big Gorgeous Canning Pot was released from the beetle-haven of the basement. From his cavernous depths. I’ve already hauled out a double batch of Indian-spiced pickled beans,
twelve jars of tomatillos,
and 8 glorious pints of what we affectionately call “Peach Glop.” I may redeem myself yet.
With the peaches that escaped the Glopper, I made a quick clafoutis. This has happened before, but since the last time I talked about it here was two years ago, I thought I could talk about it again. And not, you know, worry.
But of course the first clafoutis (though highly edible) failed to puff and become generally gorgeous, so then we all had to suffer through my making it a second time for breakfast the next day, which, as worrisome things go, is not as troubling as other stuff that comes at a girl.
Second one came out fine. So I can stop worrying about that, and move on to other stuff.
two large or three medium ripe peaches, chopped or sliced
a good scraping of lemon zest (meyer lemon zest is a boon here)
a nice splash of St Germain elderflower liqueur, or failing that, white wine
1/3 c sugar (divided)
3/4 c half and half
fat pinch of salt
1/2 c all-purpose flour or your favorite GF substitute
To gild the lily, come serving time:
a handful of finely minced lemon balm or lemon verbena leaves
a dollop of crème fraiche
Mix the peaches, lemon zest, booze and 1T of the sugar in a small bowl, and set aside.
Heat the oven to 375. Generously butter a 10″ glass pie plate or ceramic baking dish.
In a medium bowl, combine the remaining sugar and all the other ingredients. Whisk or blend (an immersion blender is nice for this) until perfectly smooth.
Pour the peaches and the juices they have accumulated into the prepared pie dish. Now pour the batter over the fruit, and pop that bad boy into the hot oven. Bake until puffed, set in the center and browned at the edges, about 30-35 minutes–but keep an eye on it after 25 minutes, as ovens vary a lot. If your oven has a convection setting, use it for the first 15-20 minutes, then you can turn it off and turn the heat down a hair for any remaining time needed.
It will deflate on its way to a temperature you can safely eat it at, but so be it.
I don’t know what all of you have gotten done the last few weeks, but the dill’s sure been busy. It has self-seeded in a good portion of my parents’ garden, and it’s about as high as an elephant’s eye, and I picked a whole big lot of it, knowing full well I had nothing to mince it up into (it’s mad tasty added in copious amounts to spinach, but I had no spinach).
I just got kind of mesmerized by its abundance, and the waxy feel of the leaves and the bracing aroma as I picked. Then all of a sudden I had a huge handful of dill, whose abundance I did not want to waste. Dill pesto! There’s an idea. Fearing it would be too aggressively dilly on its own, I threw some lettuce in to mellow things out. In a matter of moments, I had some glorious green goo.
There are lots of things this would be good with, and for, and on. I imagined styling it up for you on a slice of bread or a sandwich or some twee little canapé. But then my family suddenly zipped off somewhere together and the house was quiet, me and the dill pesto alone together. In the waning moments of the day’s natural light, I took a head of endive and went outside. I tried to take some nice pictures, really I did, but I was really tired, and hungry, and it was so quiet there in the cool of the evening.
I can tell you that this stuff is really good on endive.
1 large handful of fresh dill
4-6 leaves of sturdy, mild lettuce (I used a romaine heart)
1 handful of toasted almonds (roasted sunflower seeds would make a good substitute)
1 tsp harissa
1 slice of preserved lemon
1/2 c EV olive oil
Combine all but the oil in a blender. Coarsely combine, and then with the machine running, add the oil in a steady stream and blend until smooth.