My Winter Tomato "Hack." Plus, What NEVER To Do With Tomatoes
I know this could well be a summertime post, and I’ll remind you about it in August, but man, there is something so exciting about taking tomatoes out of the freezer when it’s five degrees outside.
I have been growing tomatoes since I was in my early twenties. The first were planted in a crack in some sidewalk paving next to a fence in my back “yard” in Somerville, MA. There are a lot of things I don’t remember, but—buying seeds, using a spoon to dig up the tiny bit of soil I could find in that one-inch space, planting, watering, (sort of) praying, then somehow succeeding in growing my own tomatoes (bearing in mind that I was very much a city boy, and aware of what a miracle this was in a naïve, dumb-as-dirt way)—that event was singular. Maybe even formative.
OK, fast forward to around ten years later, when I’d become someone who actually knew how to garden a little, and would grow forty, fifty, sixty pounds of tomatoes annually. I started by doing this idiotic routine that old cookbooks told you to do: cut a little “X” in the bottom of the tomato skin, drop it in boiling water, count to ten, take it out, peel the skin. (Let me tell you: NEVER do that. Unnecessary.) I made elaborate sauces with my skinned tomatoes, and canned them.
Then I graduated to making sauce without peeling, and freezing the sauce. And, for sure, there is something nice about having quarts of sauce in the freezer. (And the skins slip off as you cook the sauce, anyway.)
Eventually, I realized you could just core and quarter the tomatoes, and freeze them that way. And finally I discovered, just last year, that you can harvest tomatoes, put them in plastic bags whole, and throw them in the freezer. Period. Done.
When you take them out, six months later, the first thing you notice is that their beauty is preserved. That is not a joke.
When you defrost them, of course, they become a little sadder looking. But you get refreshing tomato water to drink, and you get tomatoes with skins that slip right off (check out the edge-of-your-seat home video below), and which are ready for sauce or any other role that involves cooking.
In the last week, I’ve made an awesome tomato-laced lamb stew with white beans, as well as Pasta Arrabbiata and Pasta with Potatoes (an incredible and surprising Neapolitan dish), both of which were taught to me, 35 years ago, by my friend and guru Andrea. All of these are perfect for winter. The recipes are below, and since you use these tomatoes in the same way as the ones in the can, they all work beautifully with whole canned tomatoes.
Remember all of this in August.
Me and My Tomatoes
Me squeezing tomatoes (it's like a Michael Bay movie, only with more action).
This starch-on-starch dish, a stewlike combination of little more than the two main ingredients and canned tomatoes, may seem to be the most unlikely ever. But it’s actually a satisfying, traditional Neapolitan dish, maybe all the more enjoyable because it breaks the rules. It’s best when the pasta is cooked until it is fat, juice-laden and quite soft, so there's no need to seize the ideal al dente moment. Nor is there any need to worry about the ''correct'' pasta shape; pasta with potatoes is good with several different shapes, in varying quantities, preferably broken.
The combination of slow-cooked meat (in this case, lamb), tomatoes, and white beans never gets old, especially when the weather calls for something warm and comforting. And if you have leftovers, great; this dish is just as good (maybe even better) the next day.
Arrabbiata is one of the many sauces I learned from my friend Andrea Graziosi while he was living with me in New Haven in 1984(!) - and it could well be the one I’ve since made most. “Arrabbiata” means “angry,” which everyone (me too) assumes is a reference to the chiles: This dish should be almost fiery. Be liberal with the black pepper, too.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.