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How to Stew Tomatoes

Have more tomatoes than you can handle? See pictures of international tomato recipes.
©iStockphoto.com/virginieb

The autumn bounty of homegrown garden tomatoes by the bushel almost seems unfair because there are often too many to use before they spoil. Imagine the bright, flavorful goodness of a wedge of ripe tomato as the side dish for your scrambled eggs, grilled ham and cheese sandwich or dish of Welsh rarebit. Instead of being a seasonal pleasure, you can have the intense flavor and sun-seasoned goodness of tomatoes from your own garden all year long.

Clever cooks have come up with some fast, sophisticated and diabolical ways to make tomatoes a year-round staple, but none packs more flavor and comfort food appeal than stewed tomatoes. The concept is simple: clean tomatoes, cut them into sections, add a few flavor enhancers like salt, pepper and sugar, and cook them long enough to for their flavors to deepen. Twenty minutes at a light simmer will do it, but some seasoned cooks make it an all-day affair to give their stewed tomatoes added richness and depth.

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Stewing tomatoes is a wonderful way to turn a big tomato harvest into hearty winter fare or the secret ingredient in prepared spaghetti sauces, stews, minestrone or chili. Once prepared, stewed tomatoes will hold well in the fridge for a few days. They're a great canning and long-term freezing candidate, too. If your tomatoes are plump, juicy and ready for a makeover, you can stew them to perfection either on the stove, in the oven or in a slow cooker. You'll be surprised at how easily you can integrate soft, succulent fresh stewed tomatoes into your recipes. They'll keep their vivid flavor and make a lively addition to your cooking ingredient arsenal.

 

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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.

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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.

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Tomatoes have an intense flavor you'll never confuse with, say, a bell pepper. Because recipes made with them take on their brilliant and vivid flavor, some cooks like to incorporate other ingredients into their stewed tomatoes to fine tune them and create a more subtle dish. Because tomatoes can taste acidic, almost metallic even, adding some depth-enhancing flavors and sweeteners may be just the thing to make a perfect stewed tomato for your winter table.

When reviewing stewed tomato recipes, look for sugar as a key ingredient if you don't like the bite you get from some cooked tomato products. If you love Southwestern cooking, be on the lookout for ingredients like cilantro and cumin. If you enjoy salsas, relishes and chutneys that use lots of ingredients to create unique flavors, try stewed tomato recipes that incorporate ingredients like:

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  • bell pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • celery
  • carrot
  • onion
  • garlic
  • basil
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • Worcestershire sauce

There can be a bit of crossover among tomato-based dishes and products, with recipes for stewed tomatoes looking very much like simple marinara sauce recipes from an ingredient standpoint. If you have enough fresh tomatoes to work with, you can try a couple of different stewed tomato options or even invent your own recipe. It's fun, and there's no risk of losing the tomato rich flavor as you blend and mix ingredients. We like to include sugar and just a little cinnamon and allspice for a stewed tomato with attitude to spare.

These meal recipes use stewed tomatoes to create warm, filling and vibrant dishes your family is bound to love. They'll challenge you to build an even bigger stash of tomato recipes for holiday meals and beyond.

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Sources

  • Chowhound. "Tomato Sauce From Fresh Tomatoes -- Help, Please!" Undated. 10/27/10.http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/298239
  • Davidson, Alan. "The Oxford Companion to Food." Oxford University Press. 1999.
  • Preserved Food. "Stewed Tomato Recipe." Undated. 10/27/10.http://www.preservefood.com/canning/recipec.shtml
  • Presto. "Pressure Canning Fruits and Tomatoes." Undated. 10/27/10.http://www.gopresto.com/recipes/canning/fruits.php
  • Recipe Tips. "Tomatoes, Green, Raw." Undated. 10/27/10.http://www.recipetips.com/usda/food-nutrition/t--11527/tomatoes-green-raw.asp
  • Soul Food and Southern Cooking. "How to Stew Tomatoes." Undated. 10/27/10.http://www.soulfoodandsoutherncooking.com/how-to-stew-tomatoes.html

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