red and green tomato pizza sauce

IMG_5326I’ve been eating homemade pizza, and my waistline has everything to show for it.  lt’s made all the better by peppers and basil from the garden and homemade pizza sauce.  If you’ve made and frozen my tomato paste already, it’s easy to pizzasaucify it when you defrost it by adding some fresh oregano, black pepper, and olive oil.  I usually use two ice-cube-tray cubes per pizza.

But I discovered another way as I was experimenting with roasted green tomatoes: red and green tomato sauce.  The green tomatoes are fantastic!  They give the sauce a slight green-peppery edge, and roasting onions and garlic along with the tomatoes adds great depth of flavor.  Just add a little spice mix and you’re good to go.

Need more green tomato recipes?  Click the link or, if you would, check out my very first column in Eugene Magazine, in which I discuss the pleasures of green tomato molé.  It’s on the shelves now, Fall 2013. Planning to try some fermentation experiments next.

Red and Green Tomato Pizza Sauce

  • 2 roasting pans full of paste tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 roasting pan full of green tomatoes, cut in large chunks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large white onions, chopped coarsely
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • Seasoning to taste with celery salt, black pepper, fennel seed, oregano, smoked paprika, and/or Penzey’s or another company’s pizza seasoning blend.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Prep tomatoes, onions, garlic, and carrot, then place in three roasting pans.  Exact amounts can vary, but try to make one relatively even layer in each pan.  Sprinkle with a little olive oil and celery salt (or regular salt) and toss. Roast vegetables slowly overnight until shrunken but still soft, 6-8 hours.

Grind roasted vegetables in a food mill, taking care to squeeze the onions and remove fibers when the mill is getting too clogged.  If the purée that results is still too wet to be a proper paste, cook down in a saucepan at very low heat to remove more water.  Add seasonings and freeze sauce in an ice cube tray.  For a standard pizza using store-bought pizza dough, defrost 2 cubes, about 3-4 tablespoons of sauce.

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homemade ketchup that tastes right

IMG_4035IMG_4032You forgot about the ketchup, didn’t you?  Turns out that being sad makes for great ketchup. Indeed, this year’s version was the ne plus ultra of ketchups.  OK, I mostly got lucky.

As my previous, lengthy post on ketchup describes, and I’ve mulled over in countless classes, ketchup’s balance of flavors is more about the craft than the mystery of the perfect flavors in Heinz 57.  I’ve been honing my ketchup technique for a few years now, focusing on the texture and the umami component. Until this year, I’ve been unhappy with the thickness of the ketchup, as you can see from the photos in the post.  But I think I’ve got that settled.  My ketchup doesn’t leak watery ketchup juice on the plate.  Finally.

Powdered vegetables are the secret to thicken the sauce. After the frustrating experience of cooking the sauce down for many, many hours and still having it leak, I was thinking about adding agar-agar or xanthan gum to help.  But it turns out I didn’t have to because my umami solution solved the thickness issue, too.  Last year, my ketchup was almost too bitter with celery and lovage seed, so I brought those levels down and rounded out the whole thing with onion powder, an absolutely essential component, and garlic powder. It transforms the ketchup from something that’s too sweet and sour and high note-y into a baritone boom-boom-boom.  It’s ketchup that tasts right; even better, I’d argue, than Heinz.  Yeah, I know that’s crazy-talk.  But it really is that good.

In fact, it’s so good, I might even add more powder next year: tomato and celeriac powder.  And if I dry and pulverize tomato peels when I process my next batch of tomatoes, as Joel MacCharles of the marvelous preservation blog, WellPreserved, suggests, it will help add more umami and heft.  And although I used my magic celeriac salt, I might be even more successful if I’m not too worried about the salt content and can fiddle with the unique glutamate that celery root always adds.

I’m indebted to several sources for this recipe.  The base is from the tested standard recipe for spicy ketchup in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, and auxiliary recipes provided by the OSU Extension Master Food Preserver program (with which I am affiliated as a MFP volunteer), with improvements by Linda Ziedrich in Joy of Pickling and Joel of WellPreserved’s methodical, patient, multi-year series of posts on tomato sauce and ketchup.  The WellPreserved family processes over 400 lbs. of tomatoes a year, so I’m pretty convinced they can teach us a few tricks.  Mine diverges from all of these sources a bit in method, but don’t worry, it’s still safe.  It only changes some techniques to make things easier on the cook and some spices to enhance the flavor. Oven roasting adds flavors and removes much of the water without the need to boil for hours.

If you’ve canned Ball ketchup in the past, you’ll notice I half their recipe, approximately half a lug of tomatoes.  Quite frankly, I don’t eat that much ketchup, and this amount fits in my oven and stockpot much more easily.  I don’t have to do anything twice. Also, I can in half-pint jelly jars for ease of use.  If your family eats a lot of ketchup, you should double the recipe and can in pint jars.   If you decide to double my recipe for the standard amount, though, be warned you’ll need a huge pot, more sheet pans or two overnight sessions for roasting, and longer time cooking down the purée.

Some of the ingredients are not common.  From Joel, I take the idea of adding a Japanese pickled plum (umeboshi) to the ketchup for umami.  For a recipe my size, he’d add a tablespoon of umeboshi vinegar, but I only had the plums.  I grow bay, lovage, and my own cutting celery for seed, and as mentioned above, make my own celery salt, so I have these things on hand. Hell Dust smoked dried peppers are awesome; buy them here.  But if you can’t, it’s ok to use others if you can find them.

The vegetables are the best quality, either my own or from local farms, and I use Bragg cider vinegar. If you are shy about spiciness, don’t use fresh cayenne peppers from Thistledown Farm as I did.  Good ripe red mild frying peppers are fine.  I used mostly my own tomatoes (paste and others) and some ‘Scipio San Marzano’ paste tomatoes from Good Food Easy to arrive at the proper weight, but I strongly suggest using only paste tomatoes.

Feel free to improvise on the spices, but not on the ratio of the tomatoes, vegetables, vinegar and sugar.  This ratio was tested for safe canning by the USDA-affiliated folks.

Update, 2015: Use baking parchment paper on your aluminum pans when roasting the tomatoes, and it will prevent etching or staining.

Ketchup That Tastes Right

Makes 7-8 half-pints, depending on tomatoes and reduction time.

  • 13 pounds paste tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon homemade celery salt (or regular salt with some celery seed in it)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic
  • ½ cup chopped red hot peppers (e.g., cayenne)
  • 1 umeboshi (optional) or a little soy sauce or anchovy paste for umami
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1.5 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Hell Dust smoked pepper flakes or smoked paprika

Spice Packet:

  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • sprig of lovage
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon coriander

Equipment Note: You’ll need cheesecloth for the spice packet; several sheet pans; and a food mill or grinder.  If you have a grinder, great.  I’m guessing you do not.  A food mill is fine.  You might also opt to just blend in the skins and seeds, which will add a slightly bitter flavor and grainier texture to the final product, but I like a smooth ketchup so I use the food mill.

Instructions:  Wash, cut off stem end, and slice tomatoes in halves or quarters.  Toss them in some salt.  Oven roast them in a single or double layer on sheet pans in a 200-degree oven overnight or for at least 4 hours.

Move tomatoes to stockpot and add chopped onion, garlic, red peppers, umeboshi, and two bay leaves.

Simmer for 3-5 hours, stirring frequently, on very low heat, until the tomatoes break down and the onions and peppers are very soft.  Cool purée until you can handle it. Discard the bay leaves.

Now for the part that’s a pain.  Be patient.  Wax on, wax off.

Press the purée through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds.  Take your time.  Really press out all of the flesh from the skins.  You might even knead and squeeze the skins with well-washed hands to extract every bit you can.  This is important because most of the umami flavor in the tomato is in the flesh near the skin and the seeds.  Consider saving the skins/seeds for dehydrated powder (see note above and instructions).

Add the purée to a deep stockpot, because it will spatter all over the stove if you use, say, a 5.5 quart dutch oven L.  Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, onion and garlic powders, and Hell Dust.  Prepare a spice packet by placing the whole spices in cheesecloth and tying the top of the bundle with kitchen twine or similar.

Cook down the purée for another 4-5 hours over very low heat, stirring frequently.  The thicker it gets, the more likely it is to burn, so watch it carefully and scrape the bottom of the pan when stirring.

IMG_4036 The ketchup is ready when it clings like paste to your spoon, and when you mound it up on a plate, it doesn’t leak juice out.  (Joel describes four tests for ketchup thickness if you’re truly concerned.)  As you see above, last year’s ketchup has a bit of juice pooled around it; this year’s is much thicker and more appetizing, more paste-like.

You might food mill the finished product yet again before a final simmer before canning if you want an even smoother texture, but it’s pretty smooth as it is.

About 30 minutes before completion, set up your canning equipment. Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions as you’re heating up the waterbath canner.

Spoon the hot ketchup into jars carefully and pressing down product with a spoon to reduce air bubbles, leaving 1/2-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.  Process in a waterbath canner for 15 minutes for half-pints or pints.  Do not process in quarts.

Important Timing Notes: it is easier to do this process over several days, refrigerating the purée in between.  Day 1: prep and roast the tomatoes.  Day 2: cook down the tomatoes with vegetables, mill the tomatoes, and add spices.  Day 3: cook down the purée into ketchup, then can it.

And more good news: tomatoes improve if you let them sit out and further ripen for up to four days after purchasing.  Joel notes that his sauce yield was dramatically improved by riper tomatoes.

cut and dried: vegetable salts

I’ve been, as you may know, experimenting like a crazy mofo with dried foods this year.  I’m not going to beat around the bush: my interest is perverse.  There’s something untoward about taking fresh, plump, in-season fruits, vegetables and meats and desiccating them into shriveled chips.  I won’t go so far as to say it’s an ode to the death drive, but if you argued for a campfire tale of mummies and their long afterlives, I wouldn’t say no.

But enough of that nonsense.  One of the nicest dried up ideas I’ve had is to make vegetable salts out of ground veggie chips.  They add a blast of subtle flavor to soups and sprinkles, and look pretty, too, if you use colored vegetables.  Plus, they cut your sodium count if you use them properly.  I’ve never been a fan of low-salt herb blends (because if I want herbs, I’ll just add herbs) or fake salt (because it tastes weird).  Vegetable salts provide an alternative to these products, and you can make them at home and therefore control what goes in them and where you got it.  Root vegetables, especially, have subtle and characteristic tastes that are underused in the American kitchen, and they’re fun to play with.

I thought, therefore, my vegetable salts might be a good addition to Michelle’s Heart of the Matter recipe contest this month.  She’s asking us to provide recipes that preserve the harvest.  I have made several low-sugar jams and fruit concoctions this year, but I thought this might be an unusual addition to a preservation bonanza.

The original inspiration for celery salt was taken from Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, where it is served with hard-boiled eggs.  I grated some fresh celeriac, soon to be in season, left it in the refrigerator with salt for a couple of days, and then dried it and blended it.  You can see some great preparation pictures at this blog, an individual who is taking on the cookbook page by page, a là Julie and Julia.

I really like to add a small pinch of vegetable salts to slices of vegetables I’m drying.  You can see some tomatoes here; the dried celeriac tastes particularly lovely on dried tomatoes.  I like the carrot salt on zucchini, because it is a pretty orange color that contrasts with the slices and adds an unusual sweetness.  A few more ideas:

  • Beet salt would be nice on roasted carrots;
  • Rutabagas, with their pretty yellow color, would make a great sprinkle on mashed potatoes;
  • Dried chanterelle mushroom salt sprinkled on tofu adds a nice umami (meaty taste);
  • Parsley root salt on roasts.

The specs?  Well, you’ll need a dehydrator, or an oven that can go very, very low.  Vegetables dehydrate typically around 125 degrees, and can take overnight or a few hours, depending on the strength of your dehydrator.  Grate your root vegetables, add salt and grated vegetable to a ziploc bag and keep in refrigerator for two days.  Spread out on dehydrator tray that has been lined with either heavy duty cling wrap or a fruit leather sheet (to prevent a salty mess from dropping through the mesh) and dry until brittle.  Whirl in food processor until powdered.  If you decide to do mushrooms, skip the pre-salting and refrigerator step, and just whirl together dried mushrooms with salt (adding some chipotle powder is delicious, by the way).

I think I used four cups celeriac to one cup kosher flake salt the first time I made celery salt, but it’s best to weigh out each and follow this simple rule:  same weight for each (e.g., 400 grams grated celeriac, 400 grams salt).  Salt is much heavier, so it will be less volume.

Garlic and shallot salts are also possible with this method.  I haven’t tried shallots, but I found the garlic took a very long time to dry and stayed moist in the salt, making it less like salt than a clump of garlic mortar.  The taste is good, though, like roasted garlic.  I wonder if using older garlic is the key — I used the freshest new garlic of the season, which is perhaps more moist.  ETA:  Aha.  Deanna Delong’s How to Dry Foods tells me that I pulsed the salt too long, which made it too fine and liable to cake.  So don’t be like me; hold back with the pulsation.