Friday, August 22, 2008

It Takes Tomato to Tango


The color of intensity, of passion, of love, of fire and of the spark and heat of life, red turns out to be one of the most abundant colors at the market this time of year. Brimming with juiciness and zest, red shows up in mature sweet and hot peppers, grapes, the depth of a plum's or a peach's blush, the grainy succulence of watermelon, and -- let's not ever forget -- the glorious variety of tomatoes.

It's enough to make a diehard market fan like me swoon with desire for all that delicious food. Is it any wonder, then, that I needed a day off today to put up more tomatoes for the winter?

I started off with two different batches of salsa (because, of course, I can't settle for one when there's new produce and recipes to be tried). Looking at the bowl of tomatillos that had piled up between last week's market visit and this week's CSA share, I decided to begin with a green salsa recipe.

The tart and tangy tomatillos (related both to tomatoes and to ground cherries) mingled with sweet onion, garlic, hot peppers, lemon juice, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper to make a pale green stew of heat and flavor. It definitely has a little pucker power!

For the second batch, I turned to the salsa recipe I used last year (found in the USDA Guide to canning tomatoes and tomato products, the same source for my tomatillo salsa recipe), which followed a similar recipe save for the replacement of the lemon juice with vinegar.

Both turned out to be small batches -- one jar of green and two of red -- but since I still have two jars of last year's salsa begging to be used, I think this will prove sufficient for my needs this winter.

After a quick run downtown to restock my lemon juice and other goods, I returned to make this year's first batch of tomato sauce.

I decided to liven the steady but repetitive pace of skinning and pureeing tomatoes with a little tango music on my iPod, and I soon found myself swirling the tomatoes around the chinois as I might myself be swirled in tempo across the dance floor. And before I knew it, I had a pot of tomato puree ready to cook down on the stove -- a pot that later yielded nearly five pints of sauce.

But I didn't clean out my tomato stash for all this work. The tomatoes that the Southern Belle and I had picked from the garden earlier in the week seemed a little small for me to want to use them in sauce, so I saved a few for lunch.

Sliced and spread on a bed of peppery nasturtium leaves, this light lunch offered a perfect, easily savored complement to all the tomatoes cooked and canned earlier in the day.

As I survey the growing number of red jars on my pantry shelves, I'm intensely proud of all the work I've done so far, even though I know I have more to can. (I'm also thrilled at the prospect of being able to throw together good dinners with the contents of those jars come winter, leaving me more time to go dancing.)

And I love seeing them there!

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