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.