I love tomatoes. My husband David would say I'm a bit obsessed with them.
When we lived in Indiana, I always grew a few varieties. (I'm a Brandywine fan, myself.) But I can't pass up the chance to try something new. Which is how I ended up in our kitchen, facing down a mountain of tomatoes and not knowing what the heck I was going to do with them all.
It all started with a story. A few years ago, I was working for the Los Angeles Times and traveling through Sugarcreek, Ohio, for a piece about a local Amish newspaper. At the end of the interview, while the publisher and I swapped cooking tips, he suggested I stop at a nearby Amish produce auction - where families sold off baskets and boxes teeming with fresh produce grown in their gardens.
So I went. As soon as I stepped into the barn, my stomach growled. Mountains of tomatoes, glossy red and rich yellow, some perfectly round and others beautifully misshapen. My hands itched for a BBQ grill, a pinch of our Blackened Cajun spice rub, some olive oil and Parmesan cheese, and a loaf of warm, crusty French bread.
I bid on a basket of tomatoes. It was only a dollar or two - so cheap for such beautiful fruit! And then, another basket came up - and I bid on that. And another. And another. Eventually, I lost track of how many varieties I bought. It wasn't until I was loading down the back of my car that I realized I was heading home with more than 50 pounds of tomatoes.
My very patient husband just shook his head and hauled every bag, basket and box into the kitchen for me. Along the way, I learned a few very valuable tips. So if you're a gardener who now is swimming in a sea of tomatoes, here are 10 terrific ways to use up (and celebrate) having too many tomatoes.
1. Make a basic red sauce and freeze it - instead of canning it.
I like this recipe at Chez Pim, because it's dead simple, uses very few ingredients and is done in 15 minutes. Personally, I add in some spices - but that's just me. And after the failed experiment of trying to can tomato sauce - and producing sauce that was horribly acidic - our family prefers freezing fresh sauce.
2. Whip up a batch of fresh salsa.
Given that David and I have too many tomatoes (again) and too many peaches, we're going to try this recipe: Peach and Tomato Salsa.
3. Pull together a tomato sandwich.
My Dad taught me that there's nothing better than two slices of homemade bread, a bit of olive oil or pesto, a pinch of salt and a sliced tomato that's still warm from the sun. If you prefer a few more vegetables, this recipe sounds awesome (with avacado!): Heirloom Tomato and Avocado Sandwich with Creamy Dressing
4. Juice them. It's so easy:
Ingredients: 3 pounds very ripe garden tomatoes, cored, roughly chopped 1 1/4 cups celery, chopped (I keep the leaves on, but you don't have to) 1/4 cup onion, chopped 1 T sugar Pinch of salt and black pepper A bit of Tabasco (optional)
Directions: Put all your ingredients into a large, stainless steel pot and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook the mix, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until everything is nice and soupy. Then, take the pot off the heat and CAREFULLY force the mix through either a sieve, a chinoise or a food mill. Cool the liquid completely, then store in a covered container in the refrigerator. (It's good for about 5 to 7 days, max.)
5. Create your own Bloody Mary mix.
Juice your tomatoes, reach for the garlic and spices, and enjoy! Don't have a favorite recipe? Try this one from the Chow blog: Basic Bloody Mary Mix
6. Use them to make a DIY bruschetta hostess gift.
Forget bringing over yet another bottle of wine that your friends may never drink. Instead, get a small bowl, line it with a cute tea towel, add in some tomatoes, fresh basil (because you probably have too much of that growing in your garden, too!), a small head of garlic and a small bag of crostinis or French baguette. Include a copy of your favorite bruschetta recipe - we like this one.
7. Make ketchup from scratch.
Time-saving hack: Don't can the ketchup. Just store a bottle in the refrigerator. The result will be way more flavorful than most commercial ketchups: Homemade Ketchup
8. Save some money and make your own sun-dried tomatoes.
They're perfect on salads, but even better on pizza and in pesto! Be sure to do this on a warmer day, when you can keep the windows open in your kitchen. Find directions here:Easiest Sun Dried Tomatoes
9. If you're wanting a lighter meal, make gazpacho.
This cold dish is incredibly flavorful, especially if you allow the ingredients to really marinade for several hours. Friends always recommend Ina Garten's recipe: The Contessa's Gazpacho
10. Grill them!
And when you're mapping out your garden next year, try growing some heirloom varieties! Want to learn more about what might work in your garden? Click here to head over to Tomato Fest!