August 21, 2012

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Last weekend the girls and I spent an hour or so at Johnson Farm in Gridley picking produce.  We brought home three flats of strawberries, one and a half flats of red grapes, two melons, a box of assorted tomatoes, two bags of assorted peppers and three eggplants.

All day Saturday I rinsed strawberries, sliced off the tops, and froze them on wax paper-lined baking sheets.  I ended up with about four gallons of frozen strawberries for winter smoothies.


Grace and Jason love spaghetti, but I'm not a big fan.  This weekend, though, I relented and made a big batch of roasted tomato sauce, then simmered it with browned ground beef and served it over penne with plenty of grated parmesan cheese. It was quite good; even I liked it.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Roasted tomato sauce is very simple to make.  Simply slice tomatoes in half and arrange cut side up on a baking sheet.  Use a good paste tomato such as a roma or San Marzano.  About half of the tomatoes I used had that oblong paste tomato shape and the other half were a large round variety called Shady Lady. Cut the top off of a head of garlic and add it to the baking sheet.  This time I also added an eggplant--cut it in half just like the tomatoes--and a whole hot pepper for a little zest, and a white onion, sliced in thirds.  Drizzle vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and ground black pepper.  Roast in a 350F oven until vegetables have softened and collapsed some and much of the liquid has evaporated, about 60-90 minutes. Remove garlic after 50-60 minutes.  Remove pans from oven and, when cool enough to handle, transfer roasted tomatoes--skin, seeds and all--to blender or food processor. Squeeze in the roasted garlic cloves.  Add the eggplant, if using, removing the stem, the roasted red pepper, peeling off the charred skin and removing the stem and seeds and the onion.  Pulse to puree the vegetables, then taste for seasoning.  If desired, throw in a handful of fresh basil or other herbs and puree again.

At this point tomato sauce can be frozen for later use or poured over cooked ground beef and simmered briefly to create a classic Meat Sauce for spaghetti.

Two half sheet pans held about seven pounds of vegetables and yielded slightly more than seven cups of sauce. I froze half in a quart-size zip-top bag and used half in a meat sauce to serve four people.

Johnson Farm is located off of Hwy 99 on the south end of Gridley, California.  Their U-Pick produce and Farmstand is open through October on Saturdays and Wednesdays from 8am-3pm.  The prices are reasonable and there is a swing set for the kids to play on if they get tired of picking. 

August 9, 2012

Volunteers & Other Plants in my Garden

 Oh tomatoes, the glory of the summer garden!  

I haven't had much success with tomatoes in my garden in the past few years, but last spring we had our huge tulip tree removed, which means the garden gets more sun.  Discouraged by my past failure, I did not attempt to grow any tomatoes this year. Apparently some of the compost I used this year was immature, because my garden is full of 'volunteers.'   While I would have liked to get a harvest from the seeds I actually planted (melons, okra, gherkins, luffa), figuring out what all these volunteers are is entertaining in its own right.

This plant has clusters of heart-shaped tomatoes, about two inches in diameter. I'm still waiting for them to turn red.  This article gives me hope that they will turn red, after the smoke clears and the temperature drops a bit (how many days of 100-degree weather have we had so far in August?!).

Oh, look!  This little cherry tomato is ripening!

We have one cherry tomato plant with lots of tomatoes on it, two plants with what I would call medium-sized tomatoes, and a couple stunted plants that sprouted in an area that is not getting enough water or sun.

 I planted three kinds of melon: a baby watermelon, a Bidwell casaba, and a cantaloupe, but that area of the garden seems to be overrun with the 'volunteer' plants: a couple varieties of zucchini, a cucumber vine, and the stunted tomato plants.  This is the only melon I've found under all the leaves, and I don't know what it is, do you? I'm eager to cut into it, but I'm waiting, because, being the only melon in the garden, I want it to be ripe.
 When this little volunteer sprouted up underneath my quinoa, I thought it was a cucumber vine due to the leaf size and the dime-sized yellow blossoms, but the fruit (at last count there were four on the vine) appear to be a variety of pumpkin.  What do you think it is?  Do you think it is edible?  

Chives, sweet alyssum and garlic chives. (Not volunteers.)

I first planted these chives two years ago.  I planted the garlic chives last year and they've faithfully produced since then.  What a great cut-and-come-again herb!

A friend of mine gave me some quinoa seeds.  Due to limited space, I have 2-3 good-sized plants (about six feet tall). My understanding is that we wait while those green grains mature and dry a bit, then we harvest some quinoa!

Huh?  What's this?  Back in the volunteer section of the garden, at the far end that doesn't seem to get enough water or sun, tucked in amongst the dried remnants of spring's pea plants? A tomato that's actually turning red?!  It appears to be a paste variety.

This morning's harvest:

  • 9 slicing cucumbers of various sizes
  • 1 handful of purple podded beans
  • 1 West Indian Burr Gherkin -I planted at least six of these seeds, but, being in the area overrun with volunteers, I only got one plant.  It's producing well, but probably not enough for a batch of pickles.  The girls and I like them straight off the vine.  They are crisp, spiky and just a little lemony.
  • 3 green podded peas that I found hiding under the zucchini foliage.
  • 3 zucchini picked while still small and sweet
  • 3 pickling cucumbers, all of which managed to get bigger than I would like for pickling.