You may have noticed my recent absence (0r not) but I'm just back from two lovely weeks of local eating in BC (perfectly timed to coincide with the best sockeye salmon run in many decades). BC is of course a bit freakish when it comes to local food; I was indulging in cherries and strawberries and hazelnuts and fabulous cheeses, BC wines and many, many salmon. I was prepared to be let down on my return home but really, it's pretty impressive what we can find here - even if it takes a bit of looking. Today's run to the Kingston market and Cochrane's netted me NS strawberries and cherries, lovely cheese from Armadale, Gagetown plums and apples, local cauliflower, broccoli and organic beets, baby turnips, carrots, a wide variety of potatoes (including gorgeous little reddish fingerlings) and, because of the storm warning, I even managed to score free-range eggs from Cedar Lanes (which usually sell out well before 10a.m.). So really, no shortage of local goodies here either (and, I must say, our wild blueberries are superior to the high bush BC variety - I'm just saying...)
Anyways, the threat of a hurricane meant that the Kingston market was not particularly well-attended and particularly wanting for customers were bushels and bushels of tomatoes. Now I have lived in an Italian neighbourhood in Toronto (who hasn't?) and always admired those huge baskets of tomatoes and everyone going happily home to make sauces. But not actually being Italian I have also always held back from actually buying a bushel since I really hadn't progressed far beyond putting tomatoes in salad (sad, I know.) The thought of coring and then "x"ing and then parboiling and skinning all those tomatoes before cooking them for hours into a sauce was really too daunting. But the opportunity to give it a go was just too tempting to pass up this morning and, because I really do want to avoid those highly-salted tins of tomatoes I tend to rely on all winter, I walked away with what was probably two bushels in all. My fear over what to do with this cornucopia was alleviated by one tomato seller who said she simply quarters them and freezes them and then throws them into soups and sauces as needed. Brilliant! Why not? I know they are usually skinned and cooked down to make a smoother, stronger sauce, but frankly I'm not that picky and I only ever end up throwing a tin of tomatoes in with onions, garlic and whatever else is going in the sauce and cooking it down to a bare level of thickness. It was a great relief to realize I could just cut the suckers up and freeze them on a cookie sheet. Suddenly the tomato world was my oyster (so to speak). I checked out my Preserving for Beginners book and it indeed concurred that you could freeze tomatoes (although they would be more watery) and you could even freeze them whole after coring. So I prepped a few cookie trays of tomatoes for freezing in a matter of minutes. Amazing.
I also remembered a recipe for roasted tomato sauce that I had wanted to try and lo and behold another dead-easy tomato preservation technique presented itself. You just quarter or halve the tomatoes and put them cut side down on a baking sheet or baking dish, drizzle them with olive oil and salt, throw in some whole garlic gloves and chunks of onion and roast them for 40 minutes (until the skins brown somewhat). Then, when they're cooled, throw them in the food processor or blender. Again, fabulous results. Really, really tasty base tomato sauce ready to freeze with minimal effort. I also discovered that if you want the sauce thicker just pour off the "juice" that will have accumulated in the pan and reserve that for the most amazing soup broth ever. I can't wait to get more tomatoes. I'm on a roll!
In fact I started looking for other things to roast so I checked on line about roasting beets - which again, I love but am intimidated by. Easy as all get out it turns out. Wrap 'em up in some tin foil, pour on a little oil, and roast until fork tender. Once they've cooled the skins "slip off like big winter sweaters" as one website quaintly put it. Absolutely lovely. Besides I just happend to have some NS feta, and some roasted walnuts to throw into a salad with the roasted beets. And, to top it off, a honey balsamic vinegar I had brought back from Vancouver island (Okay, this is the part where my dear brother-in-law would ask - so is it still local if you brought it back from the other side of the country? Okay, well, we'll discuss that later. But it was really good with the beets....)