Be honest. How many tomatoes do you gardeners wind up with every year that look just like this?
Sure, some of them ripen just fine sitting on the kitchen counter or inside a paper bag. But a lot of them don't, and so they wind up not on a plate but in the compost pile.
I have an intimate knowledge of this topic, believe me. Every year I shepherd two to three dozen tomato plants through the short, confounding Maine summer. And every year I can count on one thing: that I will harvest almost as many tomatoes that look like this as any other.
There's a reason for this, of course. It's too damned cold up here. A proper tomato season is warm and long, and warm and long is something that Maine summers do not do so well. Hell, it's been in the 50s overnight here for a couple weeks already.
Of course, there was also that "weather event" a little more than a week ago. One of the most important things that I did to prepare for Hurricane Irene was not boarding up the windows or tying down the lawn ornaments. It was heading over to my garden with lots of heavy canvas bags so that I could harvest the many as-yet-unripe tomatoes that were at risk of being damaged by the storm. Between Irene and the oncoming change of season I think I wound up with thirty pounds of unripe tomatoes last week.
Lucky for me, I have a friend named Joe, whose mission in life is to spread useful knowledge to anybody who will listen to him. Largely this knowledge centers around world travel, as that is Joe's specialty, but my friend is versed in topics far afield as well.
Joe knows tomatoes, for instance. And he knew what to do with the pounds and pounds of unripe tomatoes that I was saddled with. (I don't do fried green tomatoes, okay, so save the suggestion for somebody else.)
I would never in a million years have guessed it, but Joe told me to make a sauce.
Yes, a sauce. With green tomatoes.
Not only did he tell me what to do, he provided me with a recipe, one provided to him by his lovely wife Joel. It is a good recipe. I know this because I tried it. Twice. Joe wanted me to pass along Joel's recipe to all of you, which I am very happy to do.
I am happy because the recipe allows you to take tomatoes that look like this...
...and turn them into a rich-tasting, very satisfying, all-purpose tomato sauce that looks like this.
Late-season tomato picking here in Maine will never again be the same.
It will be a lot better.
Joel Ann Rea's Roasted Tomato Sauce
4 to 8 pounds of fresh tomatoes, cored and quartered or loosely chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and split (Joel uses 5 to 7, but she and Joe love garlic)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, or enough to coat ingredients
Salt and pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste
10 to 12 basil leaves, chopped (reserve to add after cooking)
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F.
In heavy Dutch oven, place tomatoes, onion and garlic. Add olive oil and stir. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.
Place in oven and roast for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours (check and stir when you begin to smell the sauce, then keep roasting until you like the look and feel).
When sauce reaches desired consistency, remove from oven. Lightly mash tomato mixture with heavy spoon or potato masher, then add basil and stir.
Serve over pasta, to top fish or chicken, or as side dish. Sauce flavor deepens deliciously over 1 to 3 days while refrigerated. Can also be frozen.
Note from Joel: This works well with any variety of tomato and is great with a mixture of types, from fully ripe to green off the vine. Cherry, midget, pear and grape varieties also work well, just add whole.
Note from Meatball: I used a fair number of green tomatoes and found it necessary to add a little sugar to bring things into balance.