This is a tale of three girls: an early girl, a dirty girl and a lazy girl. The early girl definitely did not get the worm. She is a luscious ripe tomato with the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. The dirty girl is often hot and has her own natural beauty…she’s Dirty Girl Produce, an organic farm located near Santa Cruz and the grower of those beautiful tomatoes. And the lazy girl? Well, that would be me, but that’s a longer story…
Now I’m a girl who loves home-canned foods. Bell jars that have been meticulously sterilized and then lovingly filled with someone’s recipe for apricot jam, apple butter, and raspberry jelly make my heart go pitter pat. When someone shows up at my house with a gift of handmade preserves, my esteem for them grows and like the Grinch, my heart grows 10 sizes, bursting with appreciation for their efforts.
I have also been known to do some canning of my own. For years, an old and decrepit apricot tree sat in my backyard, looking scragglier by the year, but producing the sweetest apricots with just a hint of tartness. By far the best apricots I’ve ever eaten that produced the best jam I’ve ever made. Thick and sweet, it lay perfectly on freshly toasted challah or in a tart pan. We had so many apricots I made two to three dozen jars of jam each year in addition to making numerous tarts and simply eating tons fresh. We gave away apricot jam at Christmas to family members and neighbors and then had more to keep for ourselves. But then about three years ago, spring arrived and hardly any buds bloomed and the branches lay half naked in summer. We got 5 apricots that year. The next year, the craggy limbs lay bare — our apricot tree was dead. I’ve since searched for apricots worthy of canning, but haven’t yet found them.
But our apple tree survives, albeit in an even craggier state than the apricot tree seemed to have ever been. Poor tree has fire blight and although I keep saying I need to cut it down, I can’t bring myself to actually do it (or, rather, ask my husband to do it). So this year, I am grateful to still have my usual bags of apples ready to be turned into apple butter, waiting in the basement.
What does any of this have to do with the lazy girl? Everything. After years of canning apricots and apples, I’m tired: tired of peeling, tired of sticking produce in a food mill, tired of hot water baths, and tired of sterilizing jars. I love the results, but not the work. So when I bought a 20 lb box of Early Girl tomatoes from Dirty Girl Produce this last weekend, I knew I couldn’t bear to can them when I would just have to break out the canning equipment next weekend all over again to turn those apples into apple butter.
So what do you do with 20 lbs of tomatoes and a can-not attitude? What do you do when you have no desire to stand over a boiling pot of tomatoes in 90 degree weather? You roast and freeze. That’s right. I let my oven do most of the work and then after that, I’m letting my freezer do the rest.
The roasting idea came from an amazing plate of roasted tomato risotto Kim Laidlaw recently made for me (from her own box of Dirty Girl Produce Early Girl tomatoes). Roasting had given the tomatoes a caramelized intense sweetness that I wanted to replicate. So, after seeding and then roasting most of my tomato haul with some olive oil and freshly minced oregano, the tomatoes were concentrated down into their essence. Each tomato was bursting with a deep summer tomato flavor and the kitchen was filled with a sweet heady aroma. I added in the cooked juices from the seeds and stirred to create a deep red sauce. After it cooled, I ladled equal amounts into Ziplock bags and then set the lot in the freezer. The perfume of summer and sunshine now stored and ready to be used in sauces and stews this winter, accomplished without me burning myself on a hot jar or pressing even one tin lid.
Next week, I’ll can; but this week, I’m happy to be lazy.
How to make frozen roasted tomato preserves
1. Wash and dry your tomatoes.
2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees if using a convection oven and 400 degrees if not.
3. Set up a work area with the following:
- Your washed and cleaned tomatoes
- Pans lined with aluminum foil that have been greased on the top side with olive oil
- A fine-mesh colander set atop a large bowl
- A cutting board
- A knife
4. Remove any blemishes or bruises from the tomatoes and then cut each one in half.
5. Gently squeeze the tomato halves into the colander so the seeds fall inside.
6. Set the tomato halves on the lined baking sheets, cut side up.
7. Sprinkle extra virgin olive oil, kosher or sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and freshly minced or dried oregano or basil onto your tomatoes.
8. Bake for 50 minutes if using a convection oven or 1 hour if not (or until the tomatoes are cooked through, being careful not to burn them).
9. When the tomatoes have only ten minutes to go, place the juice from the bowl into a pot and slowly boil with some salt and pepper for about five minutes.
10. Remove the pans from the oven and scrape the tomatoes into a small pile using a wooden spatula and then spoon them into a large bowl.
11. Add in the cooked tomato juices and stir.
12. Let cool until room temperature and then ladle into quart-sized freezer bags that have been labeled with the date and contents.
13. Set bags in the freezer until ready to use.