How to make the most of your tomatoes + preservation, no canning required
by Kara Elder
August 26, 2020
The pickle vans are delivering a bounty of summer produce, including summer's MVP, the tomato. Any of these varieties would be right at home in salads, sandwiches, and the like. But today we're talking preservation.
Many recipes tell you to skin and seed tomatoes before making them into sauce or other cooked things like jam or chutney, and that's all well and good — you'll get a smooth product without curled wisps of skin. But skins and seeds have lots of flavor and, honestly, a little texture is nice, so why bother? (I felt extremely vindicated in these thoughts when Samin Nosrat posted this on Insta last year.)
However, *if* you find yourself skinning and seeding tomatoes, to the tune of 20 pounds of tomatoes at a time (if you were making canned crushed tomatoes, for example), then you'll be left with lots of seeds and skins. And why let all that flavor go to the compost?
With tomato seeds: Set a mesh strainer over a bowl, then plop in your seeds. Use your fingers or the back of a spoon to work the juice through the strainer. Depending on how much was clinging to the seeds, you'll end up with a lot of tasty, tasty tomato juice. (Seeds from 20 pounds of tomatoes yielded about 6 cups.) Season the juice with your favorite pickle or kimchi brine and maybe a little hot sauce, then sip it straight or spike it à la Bloody Mary or michelada. (If you seasoned with kimchi juice, try spiking it with bourbon or rye; h/t to Chiko's kimchi backs for that flavor pairing.) Since this is a fresh juice, keep it just for a few days in your refrigerator, or freeze for a month or so if you'd like to save it for a brunch spread. You could also use it in cooking; treat it like a broth.
Then, if you're into infusing vodka, put the now-strained seeds in a quart glass jar and pour vodka over top. Start tasting it after a day to see if you like the flavor; let it go longer until it tastes how you'd like. If you're feeling extra savory, you might consider pairing the tomato seeds with a few big chunks of peeled horseradish root and a spicy pepper — the fruity and acidic notes of Fresno would work really well. (It should go without saying, but this concoction would be mighty fine in your tomato juice situation.) Once you're done infusing, strain and compost the solids, decant the vodka into a 750-ml bottle, then add a teaspoon of honey or simple syrup to the bottle, seal, and shake to dissolve. You can store it at room temp, but serve it from the freezer. It's absolutely lovely taken neat, in small sips, with bites of pickles in between.
For tomato skins: ...you could also use these to infuse vodka. (What can I say, I like to infuse vodka.) OR, did you know it's really easy to dry skins in a low oven and then grind them into a tomato powder? This is shockingly simple and I'm sad I didn't know about it until this year. (Shout out to Wash Post multiplatform editor Jim Webster for the idea.) You'll find various methods on the interwebs, but I just spread the skins in a single layer on silpat-lined baking sheets, then put into a low oven (~200 degrees) until they were dry, turning them over once. I lost track of how long it took, but it wasn't that long. Maybe two hours? Once cool, put them in a blender and pulse until powdered. Pour into a glass jar and store at room temp. Use this powder in dips (like a yogurt number, or a simple olive oil and za'atar one), on popcorn, in compound butters, or even mixed into bread or tortilla dough. It's honestly worth peeling tomatoes just so you can make tomato powder from their skins.
One of the most hands-off methods to preserve your tomato bounty is to slowly roast halved (or quartered, if they're large) tomatoes in a low (~250 degrees) oven for several hours. Drizzle them with a little oil and sprinkle with salt, then let the low heat and time do the rest. If your tomatoes are large and juicy, it'll take longer; smaller, meatier tomatoes like romas will be done a little more quickly. Sometimes I'll start this process around 5 pm, leave the oven on until 8 or 9 pm, then turn it off and leave the tomatoes in overnight (the extra time helps them dehydrate even more). In the morning, transfer to freezer-safe storage bags, squeeze out as much air as you can, then label, date, and freeze for several months.
Another fun option: jam and chutney. Make it in small batches, then transfer to pint-sized glass jars and freeze for several months. While you certainly could peel tomatoes when making jam or chutney, if you plan on pureeing your mixture, then you don't really need to. This tomato chutney from Niloufer Ichaporia King is extremely good. If you've never made tomato jam, here's a good starter recipe. I usually free-form it, starting with an onion cooked in oil until soft, then adding a whole bunch of chopped tomatoes, salt, a bit of brown sugar, and spices like coriander, allspice, and a little cinnamon. Cook until it's soft, puree with a stick blender, then add a good splash of cider vinegar and keep cooking until it's as jammy as you'd like. For both jam and chutney, keep a small jar's worth in the refrigerator for up to several weeks, and freeze the rest in small jars for up to a year.
Freezing batches of your favorite tomato sauce (or hey, shakshuka!) is always a good idea, too.
One final thing: if you've gotten the fermenting bug, I highly recommend you try this recipe for khrenovina, a Siberian fermented tomato and horseradish sauce. It says it'll keep for 6 months in the refrigerator, but I kept my batch for a little longer and it was just fine. If you like cocktail sauce, but want a version with a little probiotic kick, this is for you. And if you enjoy learning about wild Russian words and idioms, this is also for you.