Memories of tomatoes past
I can still remember coming home from grade school each September and smelling tomatoes stewing from the sidewalk. Owing to her Italian heritage, my mother would freeze jars of stewed tomatoes every year. As a kid, I never really liked the rather overwhelming smell of cooked tomatoes as it washed over me once I opened the door, but as an adult I’ve come to rather like it.
I don’t put down tomatoes myself at this point, but I do like to roast some for immediate consumption. This sauce was my latest creation. I wanted something to replace ketchup on my burger, and the garlicky, sweet roasted flavour of this spread was perfect.
Easy peasy tomato spread
This is actually a no-recipe recipe. The basics are simple, and you can change up the extras to suit your taste. In fact, once the base is made, you could divide it into batches and flavour each differently.
Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat the oven to 325F (you could also do this over indirect heat on the grill).
Halve some tomatoes. If you want to be able to remove the skins before blending, use larger tomatoes (removing the seeds if they’re abundant). Combine them in a bowl with some peeled garlic cloves, a good glug of an oil of your choice*, coarse salt and pepper.
Depending on the size of the tomatoes, they can roast for 2-4 hours. Stir them once or twice after they begin to caramelize and keep an eye on the garlic so that it doesn’t burn. Let the tomatoes cook down and get really concentrated.
Pinch the skins off of the tomato halves (never mind if you’ve used smaller tomatoes as I did). Mash the tomatoes and garlic with a fork (or puree them for a smoother texture, especially if the skins are on) and taste. Is there enough salt? How acidic is it? You may want to add a splash of honey or agave for a sweeter condiment.
The direction you take with the flavourings depends on what you want from the final dish. Italian? Go with the obvious. Fresh basil and oregano. Finish with some Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Fancying a little French influence? Add a little thyme, tarragon and/or chervil. Brighten it with some finely chopped Nicoise olives. You can roast chilies with the tomatoes and garlic, or chop them fresh to add at the end. Cumin, cinnamon and allspice will each add warmth and depth of flavour. And of course smoked paprika will add… well, smokiness. You can add dry spices directly, or toast them in a skillet (dry or with a little oil) to bring out their flavour. The combinations really are endless.
I ended up adding a splash of red wine vinegar, a little agave nectar, a few dashes of bitters and some allspice and cayenne. The sweet, meaty flavour of the tomatoes hits the palate first, followed by the warmth of the spices, and finishing with a lovely lingering roasted garlic flavour. I used it to top burgers, but this would be excellent paired with cheese and crackers, or over grilled chicken or fish. Serve it warm or at room temperature.
*A word about the oil – Olive oil is a natural choice in this, as it has a fruity or peppery flavour, depending on the variety. But there are other very healthy options. Here are just a few that will work in this recipe.
- Coconut Oil – is shelf stable, can be found with or without the distinctive coconut flavour, and can be heated to 350F. The health benefits of this oil are numerous, and it is my favourite oil for almost everything (we enjoy the flavourless variety, as my family does not like the taste of coconut). Remember that coconut oil hardens in the fridge, as does this sauce if you’ve used it. Just bring it to room temperature or warm it up (tastes even better) before serving.
- Avocado Oil – has a buttery, smooth taste, withstands heat over 400F, and has all of the health benefits of olive oil.
- Macadamia Nut Oil – is also shelf stable and can be heated to around 400F. It has a healthier ratio of unsaturated to saturated fat than olive oil.
I’m also interested in pumpkin seed oil, which wouldn’t work in this, but looks like it would be awesome as an addition to sauces after they are cooked.