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Grims Tales: When life hands you tomatoes, make soup

Has anyone ever told you that tomatoes are disgusting? (I'm not going to give you my whole spiel about how I used to get poisoned as a child, but if you want to find it, google "pineandlakes.com, tomatoes, poison".) Tomatoes and I have almost nev...

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Tomatoes and I have almost never gotten along. The flavor is almost medicinal in my mind. If you touch the plant, your hand smells for hours. If you bite into one, they inevitably burst open. At worst, you have tomato stains on your furniture. PineAndLakes.com Illustration.

Has anyone ever told you that tomatoes are disgusting?

(I'm not going to give you my whole spiel about how I used to get poisoned as a child, but if you want to find it, google "pineandlakes.com, tomatoes, poison".)

Tomatoes and I have almost never gotten along. The flavor is almost medicinal in my mind. If you touch the plant, your hand smells for hours. If you bite into one, they inevitably burst open. At worst, you have tomato stains on your furniture. At best you get the sensation that a fruit just vomited in your mouth ... considering the taste, maybe I have that backward. Maybe the stains are the best and the vomit the worst - either way, yuck!

To make things worse, restaurants all over the place automatically put them into their burgers, like they are some nutritious, tasty treat rather than toxic blech! And if you think it is as easy as removing the tomatoes, you are wrong. The tomato water and seeds taint everything.

If you are lucky, the tomato was sandwiched between lettuce and you can just sacrifice the lettuce to save the burger.

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If you are unlucky, the tomato has infected the bun, the cheese or, God forbid, whatever types of sauces are on the sandwich. Then you can throw all the tomato away that you want, but your sandwich will still taste faintly of fruit vomit.

Worst of all, these nightshade relatives are a conundrum for me. If you plant just a few plants, you are guaranteed to have more fruit than you could possibly use. Whereas, almost any other plant takes up so much space in your garden to grow just a few. These things are like a curse!

Of course, I write this as the harvest season is coming into its full force. Rather than allowing them to rot and declaring all the garden space dedicated to growing them a waste, there must be some ways to use them.

That's why you have to get creative to mask the tomato, texture, flavor and all. After all, who likes fruit vomit?

Peeled tomatoes

Tomatoes

Boiling pot of water

Ice bath

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(If you have a foley food mill, this step is completely unnecessary.)

Cut a small "x" into the bottom of each tomato.

If your sink is clean, pour a bunch of ice into it and fill it with water. If it is not, find a large pan (a canner works) and fill it with ice water. Bring another large soup pot of water to a boil with enough headspace for tomatoes.

Dip tomatoes into your boiling water, several at a time, and remove into the ice water after 10 seconds.

The tomato skins should split in the ice water; now you can peel them. I found the easiest way was to simply grip the tomato on the end opposite the "x" with my thumb and forefinger encircling the entire tomato on that end. If you squeeze gently, the tomato should pop right out of its skin, sort of like a cartoon ape eating bananas. If not, you might peel the tomato the way a real person peels bananas.

Pasta sauce

4 pounds meaty tomatoes (less seeds are better), peeled and quartered

1/4 cup oil (If you are going to store this, stick with olive oil to avoid rancidness)

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2 large onions, diced (I prefer red onions)

8 cloves garlic minced

1/2 cup basil leaves (approximately 1/4 cup dried, if you must)

1/2 teaspoon ground thyme

1 teaspoon oregano, ground

3 bay leaves (remove when done)

1 teaspoon parsley

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Sauté onions in a large stock pot until they are about half translucent, then add garlic. (Garlic takes less time to sauté and will burn if started at the same time.) Sauté until garlic and onion are tender and transparent.

Determine if you want a chunky sauce or a smooth sauce. If you want smooth tomatoes but with chunks of onion, remove your onion and reserve. Set aside 4 large tomatoes if you want a mix of chunky and smooth. If you would like a completely chunky or completely smooth sauce, leave the onion in the pan.

Add the remaining ingredients (except the onions and tomatoes, if you set them aside) and simmer on low. The tomatoes should soften and release their water into the pan. Simmer approximately 1 hour on low. Remove the bay leaves and purée (with a blender or food mill) if you want a smooth sauce, or if you want a partially chunky sauce, then add in the reserved onion and tomato after pureeing. If you want a chunky sauce, or if you have added in your reserved tomatoes, smash the tomatoes as they become tender.

Simmer an additional 1-2 hours to reduce the liquid and incorporate all the flavors throughout. Remove this from your heat once it reaches the thickness you prefer, even if it is less than the recommended cooking time.

Remember to regularly taste and adjust this sauce until it tastes the way you like it. As Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet said, "'Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers," though I recommend using a spoon for sanitation sake or an actually ill cook might make everyone ill. Add more tomato if you like more tomato, or more spice if you want a robust sauce. I added a touch of pepper sauce and green pepper chunks.

This recipe is adapted from a pasta sauce recipe from Wellness Mama at wellnessmama.com/8907/pasta-sauce/

Simple Tomato Basil Soup

3 tablespoons oil (olive oil if you plan to can this, so it does not go rancid)

10-12 peeled (and possibly seeded) meaty tomatoes

2 red onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cloves

3 cups stock (chicken is preferred; I used homemade venison)

1 cup heavy cream (do not add cream if you intend to can this recipe; reserve this until you heat it for eating)

1 1/2 cups finely chopped basil (you can use a blender)

Ground salt and pepper to taste

In a stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onion until half done, then add garlic. (Again, garlic cooks faster than onion.) Once both onion and garlic are tender and transparent, add stock and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add tomato. Simmer until tomato is very soft.

Process soup by blending or running it through a food processor or food mill. As a last ditch effort, you can press the soup through a colander.

Return soup to the stove and bring back to a simmer. Add basil and cloves (If someone in your family does not like basil, you can leave it out).

If you plan to can this soup, reduce it down to a preferred consistency, and then can it. Do not can it with milk; instead, add the milk when you reheat it for a meal.

If you plan to eat or freeze this soup, add cream and incorporate well. Allow to simmer approximately 15 minutes, or until it is a desired thickness.

This recipe is adapted from sharedappetite.com/recipes/quick-and-easy-creamy-tomato-basil-soup/

Opinion by Travis G. Grimler
Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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