The best ways to preserve tomatoes: techniques and recipes
Making the most of your tomato harvest
Every year the tomato harvest seems to be bigger and better, and it all comes at once! While fresh tomatoes are fantastic in salads, sandwiches and for cooking it is often difficult to use them all up while they are still fresh.
Over the years I have acquired several methods for preserving and cooking tomatoes that enable me to make the most of all of my harvest throughout the year. Here are some of my favourites.
The simplest way to preserve tomatoes for cooking later in the year is to freeze them. I prefer them chopped and skinned ready for use before I put them in the freezer, so I can just empty a bag into whatever I am cooking in place of a tin of chopped tomatoes. To do this put them in a large bowl and pour over boiling water to loosen the skins. leave for a few minutes, then carefully remove from the water, slit the skin at the base of the tomato and peel back the skin. Then chop up, removing any stalks or hard bits, and bag up in convenient sized portions ready to freeze. Small tomatoes can be frozen whole if desired and are good for dishes such as mediterranean roasted vegetables.
Passata is the Italian name for sieved tomatoes, a smooth puree with all the seeds and skins removed. Passata can be used in soups, gravies or stews where you want the rich sweet flavour of the tomatoes without any of the bits, or the seeds which can make them a little bitter. This is good to make in large batches as it takes a while. Method: skin the tomatoes as above, chop up and remove stalks. Place in a large pan, and cook over a medium heat until all the tomatoes are soft, then mash with a potato masher to loosen all the seeds. Pass the whole batch through a sieve saving the juice and pulp, and discarding the seeds. The finished product can then be bottled up (see below) or frozen for future use.
3. Bottling (canning)
Bottling is a good method for preserving if your freezer space is limited, or you don't want to entrust your entire year's supply of food to the freezer, particularly in areas where you might suffer from power cuts. There are several methods for doing this, and some special equipment if you prefer to use it. I like to keep it simple, and this is my method. Sterilise jars in the oven, use hot jars if bottling up hot food, put the tomatoes, passata or sauce into the jars, and fit with a tight lid, this must be airtight. Place the jars in a deep saucepan and cover with water, heat up and boil for an hour, then turn off the heat and leave to cool before removing the jars. If you use old jam jars the little button on the lid should pop in as it cools, ensuring that the jar is completely sealed.
4. Making sauces
My favourite sauce to go with pasta is tomato and chilli sauce, and as tomatoes and chillis are both ready at the same time this is perfect for making a big batch and either freezing or bottling as described above.
Ingredients: 1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 2 lb tomatoes (about 1 kilo), 2 fresh chillis, 1 green sweet pepper, herbs and seasoning
Method: sauté the onion and garlic until tender and slightly golden brown, add chopped chillis and green pepper, cook for a further 5 mins, then add the chopped skinned tomatoes and fresh chopped herbs - basil and oregano are very complementary to this sauce - and salt and pepper according to taste. Simmer over a low heat for around 20 minutes, and the sauce is ready to use, bottle or freeze as required. If bottled for later use it can simply be warmed up, poured over cooked pasta, and sprinkled with fresh parmesan cheese to make a great quick supper.
See also my hub on making tomato and basil sauce.
5. Tomato soup
Fresh tomato soup is the best you will ever taste and can also be bottled or frozen if required.
Cook 1 onion, 2 cloves of garlic and 1 medium diced potato in a large pan until soft, add 2 to 3 lb of chopped tomatoes - don't bother deskinning them as this is dealt with later. Add one pint of vegetable stock, seasoning and herbs, and then when everything is cooked through, and potatoes are starting to disintegrate, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. Push the whole mixture through a large sieve and return the liquid to the saucepan, discarding the seeds and skins from the sieve. The soup is ready to serve or store, and it freezes very well. Cream can be added just before serving, but do not refreeze or reboil once you have done this.
Oven drying tomatoes
- Making sun-dried tomatoes in the oven
Drying is a good way to preserve home grown tomatoes. This article guides you step-by-step through the method to oven dry tomatoes where sun-drying is not an option.