sauce, tomatoes
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the ugly truth

Am I the 27th person in the last ten days to tell you that you MUST make an oven-roasted tomato passata?  Though I normally like to dwell on the fringe, I am happy to pipe up with the chorus here.  If I can provide that crucial last little shove to send you over the edge, all the better.  They are not beautiful, these tomatoes, but they bring a lot to the table.
Oven-roasting tomatoes is one of those brilliantly simple little dance moves in the kitchen that make you feel like you probably ought to get your own cable show, and now that tomatoes are dropping from every corner there is really no excuse not to try it.
Meanwhile, in related news, my Greek Food Porn impresario is really turning up the heat with the photos she is snapping on her vacation.  Check out what came slinking into my inbox yesterday under the unassuming banner, “Goat Milk Egg Noodles.”


Now we really need some tomato sauce.  My gosh.  Cover those nude I mean noodles UP.

Besides the utter simplicity that the oven-roasted tomato has going for it, there is its versatility.  Roasted, as is, you may find you have eaten half the tray before getting organized to do anything with them.  Or perhaps that is just me. You can plop them onto a sandwich, say one involving fresh mozzarella, or toss them with hot pasta and some fresh basil and some cheese that appeals to you.  They are happy on a pizza.  And so forth.  You can whap the tray into the freezer, and once the tomatoes are firm, pack them in a ziploc bag.  Come winter, repeat all the steps with sandwiches, pasta and pizza, just pausing for about 2 seconds to pull the peels off the partially-thawed beasts (they toughen in the freezer), and thank your summer self for this outrageous gift.

The thing about this roasting business is that it concentrates the tomato-ness, as well as adding tons of flavor.  Gone are the days of a long-simmered tomato sauce, because you have roasted all the excess water off in the oven.  So even a glut of regular table tomatoes can become a stupendous sauce; you are not limited to sauce tomatoes only.  
Once you are done with roasting, cool them down and then do what my friend Marc does: attack the tomatoes with a blender or food processor, then force them through a strainer or food mill.  Blendering them up leads to a much faster and more thorough straining step, even if you have a food mill.  I freely confess to eating the skins and seeds I strain out, which I suppose means I could leave them in, except that the roasting and straining gives you such an amazingly silky sauce that I am glad not to have the bits and bobs interrupting it.

So. You will need:

a lot of tomatoes
parchment paper to line your baking trays and don’t forget I said that
olive oil
fresh oregano (best) or dried (fine alternative)
whole, peeled garlic cloves
coarse salt
fresh pepper

Heat the oven or ovens to 350.  Halve the long pointy tomatoes and quarter the bigger round jobs if you have those too.  Lay them out in single layers, cut side up, on parchment-lined trays and pans. (Carmelized tomato sugar and oil are rotten to scrub out, so go for the paper).  Tuck some leaves and sprigs of oregano in among the tomatoes, or sprinkle the dried leaves over, and cozy some garlic cloves around as well.  Pretend (if necessary) that you are Italian, and drizzle olive oil generously over the tray.  I used to obsessively paint each tomato with a pastry brush full of olive oil, and mince up the herbs, and sprinkle diligently, until I connected with my inner Italian.  Now I am all about the broad strokes.  Abbondanza and so forth. Sprinkle a fat pinch of coarse salt over the tomatoes, and a few grinds of pepper.

Slide them into the hot oven and roast until they shrivel and there are bits of tomato caramel here and there.  A lot depends on the size of the tomato–cherry tomatoes roast in a blink, while the fatter ones take about an hour or more.  Use convection if your oven has that setting.  Rotate the pans now and again.  Your house will smell heavenly.  Sing whatever arias come to you.

Cool them in their pans.  If you have used mainly sauce tomatoes, you probably want to slap a tray in the freezer for later bagging.  If you have roasted big fat round table tomatoes, a lot more water than you might expect will emerge as they cool, making you think you achieved nothing.  You are fretting unnecessarily; you have gone a great distance, and just make sure you include that liquid when you grind it all up to make sauce.  
Use whatever appliance you have handy (blender, food processor, stick blender) to break the tomatoes down a bit–no great huge pureeing is called for, just a thorough pulsing–and strain using a food mill or a coarse strainer.  The sauce freezes nicely but you may want to just throw it right on some pasta (helpful if a band of Greek women have tied a goat up in your yard and taken over your kitchen), or add a little stock and cream and call it soup, all for immediate consumption.

Buon appetito.
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2 Comments

  1. Ok, you convinced me. I’ve been staring at the heap of tomatoes from my garden, dreading the long sauce-making process. This sounds soooo much easier.
    Thanks!

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