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Tomatoes: You Can

by Elizabeth Skipper | September 18th, 2013 | Ask the Chef
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canned tomatoesI’ve seen boxes of “canning tomatoes” available at my local farm stand.  Is there anything they can be used for, besides canning?  

In my experience, there are two kinds of “canning tomatoes.” One refers to varieties of tomatoes which are particularly suitable for canning, meaning they have a high flesh to juice ratio, higher acidity, less pulp, and fewer seeds. Plum tomatoes are considered particularly good for canning because of their meatiness, and some varieties of regular tomatoes also can well. Sometimes it’s suggested that a mix of different varieties will give a deeper, more interesting flavor.

If you’ve ever cooked with tomatoes you’ve no doubt experienced the problem with juice that takes forever to cook off; or in the case of canning, perhaps you’ve put up what you thought would be lovely jars of tomatoes, only to discover them floating on a big layer of watery juice. It’s disappointing after all the work that goes into canning to find you’ve only got half a jar of tomatoes! So variety is important when it comes to canning and some are definitely better than others for that purpose.

The other kind of “canning tomato” I’ve seen is those that contain imperfections such as blemishes, scald, cracks, or splits. Because farmers can’t get full price for these, they sell them for processing in large quantities at reduced prices. Be careful – if the tomatoes are nearing over-ripeness, it’s not recommended they be used for processing. The same is true if they have any decay. Either way, they’ll be less acid, and more susceptible to canning failure. But if they’re not too ripe and there’s no decay, process them promptly and enjoy the savings.

Certainly this second kind of canning tomato can be used in any way you’d use regular tomatoes. Simply trim them of blemishes and proceed. Use them in salad or on sandwiches. Make tomato juice, puree, sauce, gazpacho, stewed tomatoes, soup, bruschetta topping, or salsa for immediate consumption. Fry up some tomato slices, or hollow them out, stuff and bake them. Put them in casseroles. The only concern is that if you’re getting a large quantity, you’ll either be eating a lot of tomatoes or sharing the largesse with someone. And that’s probably OK, because a fresh tomato at this time of year beats a greenhouse one any day.

I’ll close with sharing one of my favorite easy ways to enjoy fresh tomatoes:

Roasted Tomatoes

Select nice symmetrical round tomatoes with flat bottoms. Overall size doesn’t really matter, although you might want to avoid huge ones. Wash and dry them; core them and cut in half horizontally (across the equator.)

Drizzle a little olive oil in a baking pan or dish just large enough to hold all the halves, and arrange them in it, cut side up. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Chop together some parsley and garlic and spread it on top of the tomatoes. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and bake at 350°F just until the tomato is heated through – any longer, and it will collapse. Start checking after about 10 minutes; cooking time will depend on the size of the tomato. Delicious hot or at room temperature. I doubt you’ll get a chance to try them cold.

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