Food & Drink

What to do with your late summer tomatoes, from pie to salad to preserving

Chicken, tomatoes and tortellini make up this salad tossed with a tomato vinaigrette. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Chicken, tomatoes and tortellini make up this salad tossed with a tomato vinaigrette. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
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If anything says “the end of summer,” it’s school buses and tomatoes. The bright yellow of the buses and the vivid colors of tomatoes — especially heirloom tomatoes — presage autumn’s changing leaves with almost the same palette.

Naturally you’ll want to make some salsa to can or freeze. Certainly you’ll want to make your secret signature pasta sauce to warm up winter nights. And surely you’ll want to enjoy tomatoes at their peak, whether your favorite way is in a drippy tomato sandwich or in a Caprese salad with milky fresh mozzarella and fragrant fresh basil anointed with your best olive oil. We have three additional ways you can enjoy fresh tomatoes this season: A cherry tomato conserve, a chicken-tortellini-tomato salad and a tomato pie topped with pimiento cheese.

Now’s the time to stock up if you want tomatoes to use year-round in your kitchen. Whether you can them, freeze them or dehydrate them, a little bit of work now guarantees good eating in the year to come.

Here’s what you need to know for each method of preserving.

• To can tomatoes: Whether you’re canning diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes, you can use either the boiling water bath method or pressure can them. To make sure they can safely, add bottled lemon juice before filling the jars. Hand-squeezed lemon juice isn’t a good idea because fresh lemons vary wildly in acidity, while bottled juice is always the same. Add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to a quart jar, or 1 tablespoon per pint. Add salt if you wish — a teaspoon per quart or 1/2 teaspoon per pint. Process both pints and quarts for 85 minutes in a boiling water bath, 25 minutes in a pressure canner.

• To freeze tomatoes: A handy tip for freezing tomatoes is to wash, core and then just put them in zip-close bags and freeze them whole. When you need one in the kitchen, its skin will slip off as you wash it under warm or cold running water. Chopped tomatoes can also be frozen in plastic containers to use in soups or stews.

• To dehydrate tomatoes: I like to halve cherry tomatoes and dehydrate them for use in salads and savory baked goods like cornmeal muffins and savory scones. Bigger tomatoes can be thickly sliced or halved for dehydrating. It’s easiest to do this in a dehydrator — check your dehydrator’s instruction manual for time and temperature guidelines — but you can also dehydrate in the oven. To do so, lay the slices or halves on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put them into your oven on its lowest setting. Prop the door open by closing it on a long-handled wooden spoon. Depending on their size, it may take 12 to 24 hours for the tomatoes to reach the leathery-but-pliable stage. Let them cool completely before you tumble them into glass jars for storage.

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