Stewing tomatoes is easy, but there's some prep involved. To transform those red beauties, you have to clean and peel them first. If you've ever tried to peel a ripe tomato, you'll understand why knife manufacturers everywhere regard tomatoes as a unique challenge. For a shiny layer that looks thinner than a sheet of paper, tomato skins are tough. Loosening the skins before trying to coax them off makes the job much easier.
The most popular method is to drop fresh tomatoes in boiling water for up to a minute and then transfer them to a bowl of ice water. The heat quick-cooks the thin membrane under the tomato skin, making it easy to slip the entire tomato out of its natural packaging with a simple tug. The cold water stops the boiling process and chills the tomato fast so it's easier to handle.
When you're peeling tomatoes using a boiling bath, a big slotted spoon or spider is a good accessory to have on hand. Either will let you to immerse and retrieve tomatoes without splashing. You'll also want the water at a rolling boil. Add tomatoes a few at a time, and leave them in for 40 seconds to a minute. After you've done a few, you'll be an expert at the timing involved. Try not to put too many tomatoes in at once; they'll drop the water temperature and you'll have to keep them in water longer. It'll also throw off your schedule, making it harder to judge doneness.
Once the tomatoes have chilled, the skins will almost slide off. After a quick dip and peel, you'll be ready to core the tomatoes and discard the tough parts (if there are any) and cut the pulp into four or six wedges, depending on the size of the tomato. If you hate eating tomato seeds, this would also be a good time to remove them with a teaspoon or your trusty thumb.
We should note here that Roma tomatoes are among the meatiest tomato varieties. Along with plum and paste tomatoes, they're excellent candidates for stewing and many other cooked tomato dishes. If you didn't grow them in your garden this season, put them on your list for next year. This time around, use whatever tomatoes you have on hand. If they're a bit watery, you can cook them a little longer to thicken them up.
The tomato is the king (or queen) of home-grown veggies, and adulterating this distillation of tomato flavor with lots of other ingredients seems wrong somehow. With a little butter or olive oil in the pan to avoid initial sticking problems and some salt and pepper to taste, you can make a basic stewed tomato dish worthy of a Sunday buffet. We may be in the minority here, though, because there are lots of stewed tomato recipes around that incorporate other vegetables and a cabinet full of spices to make this one note dish more of a concert than a solo performance. On the next page, we'll take a look at a few potential stewed tomato ingredients you may want to introduce into your homemade recipe if you think your dish needs some tweaking.