Doing the Can’t Can

Doing the Can’t Can

Dear Diary,

I promised to tell you both the things I do compulsively when Real Tomatoes suddenly become overabundant in this amazing August/September moment, and last week I told you about Tomato Balls, so here’s the second thing:

First, I have to tell you how deeply ashamed I am that I can’t can things. I mean, I suppose I could can things, if I had the patience: if I wanted to go acquire an enormous sterilizer, and flats of jars with rubber-sealed lids, and if, in addition to the time it takes to just cook something, I was willing to spend time womaning a Fermilab of vegetable preservation. But the sad fact is, there are just so many other things that, for me, make life worth living, that it just never even nearly happens.

On the other hand, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, when they start offering tomatoes by the bushel at the Farmer’s Market, my wish that I could be that woman, putting up rows and rows of beautiful jars of tomato pulp to be stored in the basement for the dreariest, coldest nights of February, just tends to totally overtake my sense of reason, and then next thing I know, there I am at home with a bushel of fresh tomatoes. Which almost immediately start threatening to rot.

For many years, this character weakness forced me to spend basically every weekend from mid-August to mid-September making tomato sauce, for freezing. First, you blanch the tomatoes in boiling water; then you skin them; then you chop onions and garlic and sweet peppers and whatever else you’ve decided you want as flavor; then you stand over the pot for hours and hours as it simmers, stirring it down, until you finally have to stop it not because it’s done but because now you  have to go out and do some errands because you’re a real person and not some idyllic Italian grandmother or Mario Batali’s cooking school extern, whose whole life revolves around getting this sauce to come out right.

Diary, I can’t even begin to express my relief when, last summer, I finally discovered the secret of roasting tomatoes. As a way of preserving the flavor of summer’s best fresh tomatoes, it’s so much better than making sauce that it makes me think I should bring a receipt for all those hours I misspent slaving over a saucepan to wherever the central Registrar of Humanity is and demand that they give me some Life back.

Tomatoes roasting

All you do is cut those juicy beefsteaks in half, lay them flat on cookie sheets, brush them with a thin coating of olive oil, sprinkle them with minced garlic, herbs (oregano and thyme are my favorites), salt and pepper, and maybe a slight dusting of sugar if you doubt their sweetness, and roast them at 350 degrees for an hour or two.

Tips: It’s a good idea to put parchment paper down on the cookie sheets, because the tomatoes will caramelize as they roast and the black stuff can be hard to remove from the pans. Also, if you want to speed the process up, slice the tomatoes rather than just halving them; the thinner they are, obviously, the faster they cook.

You can eat them just as they come out of the oven, roasted–or throw them into a food processor, which turns them instantly into a richer, more concentrated sauce than hours and hours of simmering on the stove would have done.

Then you freeze them in pre-measured quantities, so that months later, in the dreariest, coldest nights of February, you can pop them into the microwave and make soups and sauces that instantly summon the previous year’s last precious days of summer–and remind you that if you can just hold on a while longer, those days will inevitably be rolling around again.

That’s what I call: doing the Can’t Can.


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