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The Iowa Gardener: Turn those extra tomatoes into an easy sauce

A few new, easy-care veggies you may want to consider planting from Bonnie Plants include the Early Girl Tomato. (Courtesy Bonnie Plants/MCT)
A few new, easy-care veggies you may want to consider planting from Bonnie Plants include the Early Girl Tomato. (Courtesy Bonnie Plants/MCT)
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This year I have just three tomato plants in my garden, but they produce so many tomatoes I can’t even begin to eat — or give away — them all.

So I’m turning to one of my favorite garden tomato recipes: Roasted Tomato Sauce. It’s hardly a recipe — more a technique, and a ridiculously easy one at that. But try it once and I promise it will become a staple in your kitchen. Best of all, if you have a lot of tomatoes, this is a great way to use them because it really condenses and cooks them down. It’s also perfect for making repeat batches and then freezing in Ziploc bags.

All you do is cut up some tomatoes, and roast them in a very low oven for a few hours. The result is a sweet, deeply flavorful sauce for pasta or to add to any dish instead of diced or crushed tomatoes.

The Basic Recipe

Start with several ripe tomatoes. Just how many will depend on their size and the size of the pan you use. Wash the tomatoes well and then cut them up (except for the cores and any bad spots) into 1- to 2-inch chunks. No need to seed or to peel them.

Lay them into the largest non-metal, deep baking pan you have, such as a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish. (Use glass or ceramic since the acid in tomatoes will react to most metals and add a mildly unpleasant flavor.) If you have more than one dish, you can roast up to three pans at a time. Do not make the layer more than 1 to 2 inches deep — you want them to roast and caramelize rather than stew.

The only two ingredients you absolutely need are tomatoes and salt. Coming in a close third, though, is a drizzle of olive oil. It promotes the roasting process, adds a little flavor and creates a slightly more velvety texture.

Roast, uncovered, at 250 degrees for about four or so hours or until the vegetables are tender and a little charred and cooked down. Stir once or twice during roasting.

When the tomatoes come out of the oven, if the sauce seems a little watery for your taste, stir in a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. Or simply crush or puree a cup or two of the sauce and add back in.

Add-Ins

Other than those three ingredients, add any or all of the following, before you roast. It’s a great way to use up what you have in your garden, your pantry or your fridge:

l Black pepper, preferably freshly cracked

l Onion, chopped

l Fresh garlic, minced, or dried minced garlic

l Bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks

l Fresh hot peppers, seeded and minced

l Crushed red pepper

l Zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks

l Eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

l Mushrooms, cut in half or into chunks

l Olives

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l Dried herbs. I like the Italian seasoning blends, or mix and match any of the following: oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, chervil, parsley.

Protein

If you’d like to add any meat or other protein, in the last hour of cooking, add any of the following:

l Boneless chicken breast or thigh, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces

l Chunks of link-style Italian sausage, cooked or raw

l Browned Italian bulk sausage

l Meatballs, raw or cooked

l Shrimp or chunks of raw fish, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces

l Canned, drained cannellini, garbanzo, or navy beans

Embellishments

After the tomatoes come out of the oven, add the following, as you wish:

l Fresh herbs, chopped

l Parmesan cheese

l Feta cheese

l At this point, you also can add any leftover cooked meats you have — chicken, pork, beef, fish, etc.

I love this over hot pasta. But it’s also delicious served over rice, bulgur, quinoa, farro, or any other similar grain.

Note: If you want a smoother sauce, after roasting but before you add any of the proteins or embellishments, you can puree the ingredients in a food processor or blender.

l Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.