If anything says "the end of summer," it's school buses and tomatoes. The bright yellow of the buses and the vivid colors of tomatoes — especially heirloom tomatoes — presage autumn's changing leaves with almost the same palette.
Naturally you'll want to make some salsa to can or freeze. Certainly you'll want to make your secret signature pasta sauce to warm up winter nights. And surely you'll want to enjoy tomatoes at their peak, whether your favorite way is in a drippy tomato sandwich or in a Caprese salad with milky fresh mozzarella and fragrant fresh basil anointed with your best olive oil. We have three additional ways you can enjoy fresh tomatoes this season: A cherry tomato conserve, a chicken-tortellini-tomato salad and a tomato pie topped with pimiento cheese.
Now's the time to stock up if you want tomatoes to use year-round in your kitchen. Whether you can them, freeze them or dehydrate them, a little bit of work now guarantees good eating in the year to come.
Here's what you need to know for each method of preserving.
TO CAN TOMATOES: Whether you're canning diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes, you can use either the boiling water bath method or pressure can them. To make sure they can safely, add bottled lemon juice before filling the jars. Hand-squeezed lemon juice isn't a good idea because fresh lemons vary wildly in acidity, while bottled juice is always the same. Add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to a quart jar, or 1 tablespoon per pint. Add salt if you wish — a teaspoon per quart or 1/2 teaspoon per pint. Process both pints and quarts for 85 minutes in a boiling water bath, 25 minutes in a pressure canner.
TO FREEZE TOMATOES: A handy tip for freezing tomatoes is to wash, core and then just put them in zip-close bags and freeze them whole. When you need one in the kitchen, its skin will slip off as you wash it under warm or cold running water. Chopped tomatoes can also be frozen in plastic containers to use in soups or stews.
TO DEHYDRATE TOMATOES: I like to halve cherry tomatoes and dehydrate them for use in salads and savory baked goods like cornmeal muffins and savory scones. Bigger tomatoes can be thickly sliced or halved for dehydrating. It's easiest to do this in a dehydrator — check your dehydrator's instruction manual for time and temperature guidelines — but you can also dehydrate in the oven. To do so, lay the slices or halves on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put them into your oven on its lowest setting. Prop the door open by closing it on a long-handled wooden spoon. Depending on their size, it may take 12 to 24 hours for the tomatoes to reach the leathery-but-pliable stage. Let them cool completely before you tumble them into glass jars for storage.
Tomato Pie with Pimiento Cheese Topping
Prep: 30 minutes / Cook: 2 hours, 5 minutes / Makes: 6 to 8 servings
This satisfying savory pie will scratch your tomato itch. Blind-baking the crust lessens its risk of becoming sodden, and starting with a bottom layer of cheese helps, too. Serve as a vegetarian main dish, or as a side dish at a cookout. Refrigerate leftovers for an enviable lunch the next day. If using a store-bought crust, roll it out a bit so that it fits the deep-dish pan.
6 large tomatoes, cored, sliced vertically in 1/2-inch slices
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pastry for one 9-inch deep-dish pie, homemade or purchased
2 cups grated American or mild cheddar cheese, divided use
10 to 12 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
1 sleeve buttery crackers, such as Ritz, crumbled (25 crackers, about 1 cup crumbled), or 3/4 cup panko crumbs
1 cup grated American or mild cheddar cheese, divided use
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sliced green onion
1 jar (4 ounces) pimientos, drained, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons hot sauce, such as Tabasco, Frank's or Cholula
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the sliced tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes; scatter salt over the slices. Roast the tomatoes, on the middle shelf, until dry, 1 hour, 20 minutes. Slice one to test it; it should be dry all the way through.
2. Prepare the pie shell for blind-baking. Fit the pastry into the pie dish, fluting the edges to stand up. Prick the bottom and sides of the pastry with a fork in many places. Lay a sheet of parchment paper over the pie; pour about 2 cups dry beans, rice or pie weights into it, pushing the weights around so all parts of the bottom are covered. Place the pie shell on the oven's top shelf; bake until lightly brown, 15 to 20 minutes, or according to package directions.
3. Make the topping: Combine 1 cup shredded cheese, mayonnaise, green onion, pimientos, garlic, hot sauce and black pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
4. Remove the tomatoes and the pie shell from the oven; set aside to cool, 5 to 10 minutes. Begin to fill the pie: Scatter 1 cup cheese over the bottom of the pie shell; make a layer of tomatoes. Strew about half the torn basil leaves over the tomatoes. Scatter half the crumbled crackers over the basil leaves.
5. Repeat with another layer of cheese, tomatoes, basil and cracker crumbs, ending with another layer of sliced tomatoes. Spread the topping over the tomatoes; scatter black pepper over the topping.
6. Bake until the crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 45 minutes. If the crust begins to brown too quickly, shield with foil crimped around the edges. Remove pie from oven; allow to cool for 30 minutes before serving.
Nutrition information per serving (for 8 servings): 519 calories, 41 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 53 mg cholesterol, 27 g carbohydrates, 4 g sugar, 14 g protein, 792 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
Cherry Tomato-Onion Conserve
Prep: 10 minutes / Cook: 45 minutes / Makes: about 8 cups, or 4 pints
While it's hard to resist snacking on just-picked cherry tomatoes, this complexly flavored conserve may persuade you to save them. Mix up the colors to make a brightly colored conserve. Its warm spice flavors make it an ideal companion for a cheese platter, over an omelet or alongside grilled chicken. It will keep up to a month in the refrigerator, but freeze for longer storage.
1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, sliced in half-moons
4 pounds cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
12 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon each: cinnamon, ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon each: ground clove, ground nutmeg
1. Place all ingredients into a 12-inch shallow pot or 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven. Place the pot over medium-high heat, bring it to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, and stirring occasionally, until the mixture attains the consistency of jam, 40 minutes. (It's OK if the tomatoes break down completely.) Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
2. Taste and correct seasonings. Divide the conserve among 4 pint jars. Refrigerate when fully cooled.
Nutrition information per tablespoon: 10 calories, 1 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 0 g protein, 31 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Prep: 45 minutes / Marinate: 8 hours / Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Marinating the chicken in a tahini-olive oil marinade helps it stay juicy as it cooks. For extra insurance, we've chosen boneless, skinless thighs but boneless, skinless chicken breasts will work too. Or shave a cooking step and use about 2 cups of diced leftover cooked chicken. This salad holds well but save the parsley garnish until just before serving.
1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons water
3 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 package (7 to 12 ounces) dried tricolor or regular cheese tortellini, cooked according to package directions, drained
4 green onions, green and white parts, thinly sliced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 cup diced tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup chopped walnuts, optional
4 large Roma-type tomatoes, seeded, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
2 green onions, white and green parts, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1. Make the marinade by stirring together the tahini, olive oil, water and garlic in a bowl, or blend in a zip-close bag. Add the chicken, turning to coat all sides; refrigerate, 8 to 12 hours.
2. At cooking time, remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry. On an oiled grill grate or in a heavy nonstick grill pan, cook the chicken over medium-high heat until it's cooked through, turning to avoid burning, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken to a clean plate; set aside until cool enough to handle. When cool, cut the chicken into 1/2-inch dice; place in a large bowl.
3. Add the tortellini, green onions, celery, tomatoes and walnuts, if using.
4. Make the dressing: Place tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic, lemon juice, green onions and garlic in a blender or food processor. Whiz until the mixture is smooth. Makes: 2 1/4 cups.
5. Pour 1/2 to 3/4 cup dressing over the chicken mixture. (Save the remainder for other salads or as a marinade.) Stir to combine, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl; garnish with chopped parsley before serving.
Nutrition information per serving (for 8 servings, with 3/4 cup dressing): 257 calories, 12 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 91 mg cholesterol, 17 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 19 g protein, 394 mg sodium, 1 g fiber