Ask the Chef

Hello Flash,

Last year you published a recipe for oven-roasted tomato sauce. I made it with my homegrown tomatoes and it was the best sauce I have ever tasted. Unfortunately, I have misplaced the recipe. Could you send it my way?

Thanks for all your food and garden wisdom.

— Karen


Dear Karen,

It must be tomato season. Your letter arrived on the very day that Wrathful Steve, a pissy old farmer with a heart of gold, gave me a box of sungold tomatoes he had left over at the end of market. These cherry tomatoes are ripe when orange, and are one of the tastiest varieties of tomato you’ll ever find. Such is the blessing and the curse of my job. I attract food. Then I’m a slave to food. It took two hours to pull the little green stems off each cherry tomato. I oven-roasted them uncut with olive oil, salt, whole cloves of garlic, slabs of onion, and sprigs of tarragon and basil (rosemary is another good herb here). After 4-6 hours at 250-300 degrees, stirring often and never letting them burn, all the non-tomato entities disappeared. Meanwhile, much of the water had cooked off, leaving a thick sauce made thicker by all the little cherry-tomato skins. I could have pureed it; chose not to; next time I might.  

Anyway, you wanted to know what I wrote last year:

Wash 10 pounds Roma tomatoes and cut out the ends and imperfections. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees until they collapse. Let them cool, then pull off the skins, squeezing them to save the juice. Add 1-1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup roasted garlic, 2 tablespoons sea salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons sugar and a splash or two of red wine. Puree, adjust the seasonings and simmer until reduced by 25 percent.

At this point in last year’s article I discussed how this sauce base could be used in a vinaigrette, an aioli, or a “Pink Vodka” sauce. Just in case you were writing about the Pink Vodka variation, here it is:

Sauté chopped red onion and garlic in olive oil and deglaze with vodka. Add some of the still-hot red sauce. Pour about 1/3 cup of this sauce into 1 cup heavy cream, stirring it around to temper the cream, then add the tempered cream back to the sauce, which is now pink. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Keep in mind that tomato reacts with some metals, like iron or aluminum, so all this oven-roasting tomato business is best done in glass or ceramic ovenware.

Consider dividing your tomatoes among several vessels, and play with herbs, spices, vegetables, roasting time, peeling the tomatoes, pureeing the sauce, etc. With herbs, especially strongly flavored ones like tarragon and rosemary, consider using whole sprigs. That way, if you taste your sauce and decide there’s enough of that particular herb’s flavor, you can pull the sprig.

Dear Chef Boy,

I’ve got the beet blues. I planted a big load of beets this year — a mixed bag with red, gold, and other … and now, what to do with all these beets? I’ve gotten some advice on steaming little beet cubes to be used in salads and veggie medleys, or for my 8-month-old to eat. I’ve also seen something on grilling, then peeling … but what else is there?

— Beets me


Dear BM,

I suggest pickled beets. They taste great and will store all winter long — unless, of course, they are eaten. Pickling involves lots of hot water and can really heat up a kitchen, so during summer months I suggest pickling early in the morning or late at night, when you can open the windows and let in the cool air.

If you’ve never pickled before, buy some canning jars and lids and read the directions that come with them. That information will help you follow my directions. Clean the beets, leaving the taproot and two inches of stem, and boil. When tender, drain the beets and let them cool. When they’re cool enough to touch, slip off the skins. Cut off taproots. Cut beets into the shape you want, perhaps slices, or quarters for medium-size beets. Small beets can be left whole.

Before you pack your beets, add a teaspoon of salt to each pint (or 2 teaspoons per quart). Then pack beets into clean, sterile jars, making sure to leave at least 1/2 inch of “head space” between the top of the beets and the rim of the jar.

In a pot, mix a brine of equal parts water and cider vinegar, with one cup of sugar for every 3 cups of brine. (You can use more or less sugar, as you wish.) Heat this until it just starts to boil, then remove from the heat. You may wish to add pickling spices, or a mixture of equal parts allspice, cloves, and cinnamon — the so-called “pickled-beet spices.” Spice to your own taste, but remember, you want a pretty potent brine here to counteract the potency of the beets.

Process for 15 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Wait at least 8 weeks before opening.

Stumped in the kitchen or the café?
Ask the writer formerly known as Chef Boy Ari at [email protected]

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