One More Tomato

I never want to see another tomato.

By never, of course, I mean not until next July, when I’ll be sneaking down to the garden several times a day to check on ripening progress of my early varieties. But next July is a long, long way off when you’re looking square in the face of a Minnesota winter.

Still more tomatoes in the back entryway-- I think I'll start using the other door.

Still more tomatoes in the back entryway– I think I’ll start using the other door.

It is my fault for having planted 75 plants of 26 varieties. I’ve culled a few seed packs of types that did not meet my particular standards, so I’m down to twenty-two or twenty-three already. That’d be a start if it wasn’t for my notorious lack of restraint when the seed catalogs come out, and the succulent varietal descriptions cause me to abandon all good sense.

With all the abundance in the tomato patch (and elsewhere in the gardens), we’ve had to get creative, and this year our creativity paid off with a new recipe we’ll be returning to season after season.

Makin' it smooooth with the food mill

Makin’ it smooooth with the food mill

I came home from the Big Stone Lake Farmers Market one Saturday a few weeks ago with fifty or sixty pounds of tomatoes and an equally ridiculous amount of eggplant—some from the market, and some I’d left behind as too ugly to go to town (I know: not a very nice thing to say about a vegetable I raised up from seed). I’d already roasted a few trays of eggplant for the freezer, and I was thinking I’d do the same with these (and then figure out something else with all those !@#$% tomatoes) when I remembered seeing a jar of tomato-based “smoky eggplant pasta sauce” at that upscale kitchen store outside of Waite Park. Hmmm.

John loves smoking meat. Why not try smoking some eggplant? He fired up his contraption, and I prepped the fruits—removing stems and ends and slicing them in half lengthwise, brushing them with just a hint of olive oil to prevent sticking. I pick eggplant when they are still young and tender, so there was no need to peel them.

While the eggplant hung out in the smoker, I processed the tomatoes into sauce and started cooking it down. Added a few onions and some garlic, and then the chopped, smoked eggplant when it was ready. Puréed the whole thing together, added some spices, and hurrah! A smooth, smoky, tomato-y deliciousness we couldn’t wait to eat on just about everything.

 

Simmer down...

Simmer down…

Here’s the recipe:
6-8 quarts tomato purée (already reduced by half or more)
3-4 cups chopped smoked eggplant
1 cup chopped onion
2-3 cloves crushed garlic
1-2 small hot peppers (seeds and all) minced

Simmer these ingredients together until all the vegetables are very soft. Then purée them all together in a blender or food processor (or put them through a food mill). Put them back on the stove to simmer some more (you want this sauce to end up thick and smooth).

Then add the following:
Bay leaf
¼-1/2 cup sugar (your taste)
1 TB salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 TB cumin seed
1 tsp oregano leaf
½ tsp ground cinnamon
*optional—add one or two 6oz. cans of tomato paste if the sauce is too smoky and not enough “tomato forward.”

Simmer this (stirring often) until it reaches a lovely, smooth thickness (not paste–but definitely not watery), then taste to correct the seasonings. If it’s a little grainy-looking, you can purée again or use an immersion blender. Voila! You’re done (uh…well, except for processing or freezing).

 

Freeze or pressure process!

Freeze or pressure process!

The eggplant in our first batch sat in the smoker for a few hours, and it almost completely overpowered the sauce, so adding tomato paste worked well to bring the tomato flavor forward a bit. The second batch (where the eggplant was in the smoker for less than an hour) didn’t need the tomato paste. Obviously, the tomato flavor will be more pronounced if you cook your initial purée down more. I reduced the first batch of plain tomato sauce by about half before adding any other ingredients—the second batch was reduced even more—slow-simmering overnight in the roaster.

Once the sauce is done, you can either freeze it or process it in a pressure canner (take the bay leaf out). Please do not use a boiling water bath method for canning this recipe—there are too many low acid ingredients to make BWB method safe. If you don’t have a pressure canner (or are uncomfortable with using the one you have–you know who you are!), then tuck it in the freezer.

I processed pint jars for 30 minutes at 10lbs. pressure (that is, I processed as if it were plain eggplant), leaving ½” headroom in the jars. If you want to can in quarts, give it a bit more headroom (¾-1”) and process for 40 minutes at 10lbs pressure.

If you don’t have a smoker, you could try grilling the eggplant over low heat to get some of that good smoky flavor into the flesh–and into the sauce. Either way, smoky eggplant tomato sauce is something new (and awesome) to add to your “I never want to see another tomato” repertoire!

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