If you were to walk into my kitchen right now, you might think you had entered some kind of wonky tomato factory. Tomatoes are stacked on every flat surface – every counter, on the toaster, on stove burners, in the bowl of the idle stand mixer. And don’t even look in the freezer: what should rightly hold loads of summer ice cream is positively stuffed with bags of Brandywines, Cherokee Purples, Purple Russians, and Black Krims, waiting for their turn in the water bath canner as tomato sauce or tomato paste.
It’s a great problem to have. Despite July’s odd mix of heat and rain, the combo of which can easily split every last tomato, my heirloom beauties have hung tight, with minimal cracks and a regular, generous infusion of tomatoes to consume and share. Especially the cherry tomatoes: I pull pounds (plural) off the vines every week. They look like Christmas trees, full of red, orange, green, and yellow jewels.
Cherry tomato plants are known to be very prolific anyway, but the happy surprise is that, a couple of times this summer, I’ve been able to harvest three or four pounds at once. This means tomato sauce and tomato paste. If you love the sweet, deep flavor of cherry tomatoes, just wait until you’ve cooked them down into concentrated tomato paste goodness.
This past weekend, I took about half of my stacked stash of Black Cherry (the dark reds in the top above) and Violet Jasper (red and green striped) tomatoes — very flavorful small/medium-sized cherries with complex, smoky notes — roasted them, and made tomato paste for the long winter ahead.
No picture can do this flavor justice. Forget the canned glop you get at the grocery store. This stuff shoots tomato fireworks right into your brain. (When you use super-flavorful tomatoes, like cherry tomatoes, you don’t even need to add onions, garlic, or herbs — it tastes absolutely fabulous straight-up.)
As with most tomato products, this tomato paste stores beautifully. I freeze them in one-tablespoon cubes and save them for blustery cold days, dropping them into steaming soups, stews, and chilis for an incredible, savory burst of umami.
Farmstands are likely similarly swamped with cherry tomatoes, so now is the perfect time try homemade oven roasted cherry tomato paste for yourself. It’s super easy, and a little patience at the stove yields a big reward.
- 2 pounds medium-large cherry tomatoes (Black Cherry tomatoes, Sweet 100s, grape tomatoes), sliced in half
- olive oil
- fine grain sea salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat.
- Place the tomato halves cut side up in a single layer in the pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle very lightly with salt.
- Roast the tomatoes for about a half hour. The tomatoes will plump up for a bit, and then little by little begin drying out. Remove the pan from the oven when the tomatoes are slightly wrinkly with dry edges. Do not let them reach the point where they collapse.
- Just before the tomatoes finish in the oven, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 4-5 quart pot over medium. (You'll need a lid for the pot.)
- Transfer the tomatoes to the jar of a blender and puree for about 30 seconds. It will be pretty thick at this point, like a hearty tomato sauce.
- Optional: push the tomato sauce through a fine sieve to catch any unblended seeds or pieces of skin. (I usually don't bother)
- Add the tomato sauce to the hot pan. Be ready with the lid, the sauce will become splattery quickly. Partially cover the pot with the lid and turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook for about an hour, stirring frequently. (When the sauce stops sputtering, you can keep the lid off.) At some point, a dark layer of sauce will form on the bottom of the pan - not scorched, simply a darker color than the rest - as the sauce starts to thicken drastically. Keep stirring (preferably with a flat-edged spatula) and working the dark sauce layer into the paste. When the paste clings easily to the spoon without any sign of budging when held sideways, it's ready.
- Use immediately, or freeze in 1 tablespoon quantities for quick additions to soups and stews.