Ever since I can remember, tomatoes have been one of my favorite foods. I like them in sauces, I like them in sandwiches, and I’ve been known on multiple occasions to just pick one up and eat it like an apple.
So, when I heard that local organic purveyors Johnson’s Backyard Garden was having their annual bulk tomato sale, I jumped at the opportunity to pick up roughly half a bushel of the delicious little buggers, and cook many of my favorite recipes to freeze and use later throughout the year.
Why freezing, you may ask? Let’s be honest – canning scares me. I worry about getting it wrong and giving all my friends and family botulism. But freezing is fast, easy, and most of all – failproof.
Some of my friends have asked “is it really cheaper/tastier/healthier to make all this yourself? After all, a can of Ragu is only a couple bucks.” To me, the answer is an overwhelming YES. Not only is the flavor of using fresh tomatoes far superior to using canned, but I don’t have to worry about BPA or pesticides, and I get to support a family farmer. Cost wise, it comes out about even, but you could substantially reduce that by growing your own tomatoes. (We’re trying on that front, but so far our biggest “harvest” has only been 8 tomatoes in a season.)
Now, without further ado, here’s the recipes I used to fill my freezer. (Click “Continued Reading” to see recipes!)
2 lbs ground meat (I used 1 lb pork and 1 lb lamb, but you could use beef, veal, even turkey or chicken).
5 small white onions, diced
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 10 oz jar of organic tomato paste
5 lbs tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 bottle red wine
salt and pepper
1. In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until it thins and coats bottom of pot. Add dice onions, stirring occassionally, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and flavor with salt and pepper. Continue to stir until onions are soft, another 2-3 minutes.
2. Add your ground meat, stirring until it breaks into small chunks and begins to turn brown throughout, then add the rest of your ingredients except for the wine. Let cook for 25 minutes at medium heat, stirring occasionally.
3. Once the skins begin to separate from the tomato, add in the wine, stirring to incorporate. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Then, reduce temperature to low and let simmer, uncovered for at least an hour, or up to four hours. (The longer it cooks, the richer your flavor will be).
4. Using a ladle, skim any excess oil/fat off the top of the mixture – it’s ok if some remains, as that will give the dish flavor, but you don’t need pools of it. Then, remove from heat.
5. Let the sauce cool for 15-20 minutes, then using a ladle, spoon your sauce into labeled, gallon-sized freezer bags. (I like Ziploc bags, as they are BPA free.) Each heaping ladle is approximately one serving – I like to put 4 servings into a bag for family meals, and also do some 8-serving bags for company meals. Lay the bags on a flat counter, and, starting at the end, flatten sauce towards the top zipper, trying to remove any air bubbles before sealing. Then, transfer to freezer.
6. When ready to use, pop your sauce packet into the microwave for 20 seconds, flip it over, and then another 20 seconds to defrost. (You can also just pop it into the refrigerator for 24 hours before you plan to cook.) Once defrosted, heat in a sauce pan like any jarred sauce. Works great on plain pasta for a simple dinner, or incorporate with ricotta cheese and long noodles for quick lasagna casserole.
6 quarts cherry tomatoes, halved
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
Salt and Pepper
Fresh herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and parsley would all work great – just use whatever you have on hand)
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Spread tomatoes out on cookie sheets, skin side down. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle garlic and herbs on top of tomatoes.
2. Place in oven and let cook for 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes.
3. Place 1/2 cups worth of roasted tomatoes in sandwich sized ziploc bags, flattening before sealing and removing as much air as possible. Then, gather all your sandwich bags, and place them in your gallon freezer bag.
4. Pull one servings worth out at a time. Microwave for 30 seconds to defrost and warm, then add to existing recipe. Works great as a pizza topping, in light pasta dishes with olive oil, or as an appetizer on crostini with goat cheese.
Ingredients: 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 lbs tomatoes, cored and diced
6 small white onions, diced
6 carrots, peeled and diced
6 celery stalks, diced
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
1 10-oz can of tomato paste
2 bunches fresh basil (about 40 leaves)
1 bunch of fresh oregano
2 bay leaves
Salt and Pepper
1. In a large stock pot, bring oil up to medium heat. Add onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft.
2. Add in carrots, celery, garlic, and peppers, plus more salt and pepper. Cover and cook for another 15 minutes (stirring occasionally) until all vegetables are soft, then add the tomatoes (and more salt and pepper). Cover and cook for another 10 minutes.
3. Using an immersion blender, puree all vegetables together in pot, blend until smooth. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you’ll have to pour them slowly into your food processor batch by batch.) At this point, your marinara sauce may be more orange than red – that’s ok – the big commercial varieties use dyes to make them more red than they really are, plus it will darken as it cooks.
4. Add the tomatoes paste and herbs. Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook for at least 2 hours, or up to 8 hours, stirring occasionally.
5. Let the sauce cool for 15-20 minutes, and remove the 2 bay leaves and discard them. Then using a ladle, spoon your sauce into labeled, gallon-sized freezer bags in the appropriate portion sizes for your family. Lay the bags on a flat counter, and, starting at the end, flatten sauce towards the top zipper, trying to remove any air bubbles before sealing. Then, transfer to freezer.
6. When ready to use, pop your sauce packet into the microwave for 20 seconds, flip it over, and then another 20 seconds to defrost. (You can also just pop it into the refrigerator for 24 hours before you plan to cook.) Once defrosted, heat in a sauce pan like any jarred sauce. Works great on plain pasta for a simple dinner, combine with heavy cream for a tomato basil soup, or over baked eggs.
The easiest “recipe” of the day! Whenever you’re done with your other recipes, core and halve any remaining tomatoes, and throw them in the food processor. Spoon 2 cups of diced tomatoes (remember to include the juice) into labeled freezer bags, flatten to remove the air, and freeze.
Let defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before using (defrosting with heat will make them a bit mushy). Great for use in Indian recipes (like my favorite, chicken makhani), chili, or combine with chopped chilies and Velveeta for a homemade queso.
Good luck, and enjoy your summer tomato bounty throughout the year!