Wednesday, October 7, 2015

TOMATO SLUDGE: A Fantasy Food

Another Secret City food offering! I believe this is my third or fourth...
In any case, the theme is fantasy and this was the first thing that popped into my mind. Tomato Sludge. Despite its dreary sounding name (intentional), it's a food that covers so many bases, it HAS to be a fantasy. But it's not!!
It's gluten-free, lactose-free, added sugar-free, organic, easy, economical, amazingly useful and above all, absolutely delicious.
Here is how you make it:

On rimmed baking sheet or glass casserole dish, pour out a few glugs of olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Pick a pan that will hold all the tomatoes without many empty spots. A little crowding is fine.

Add halved or quartered tomatoes, ( add some grapes, figs, peppers, a few stone fruits; whatever is on hand). A few shakes of oregano and basil are fine but not necessary. A little salt and pepper if you choose.

Garlic. Lots. Peeled and stirred in so it is buried under the tomatoes. This keeps it from burning.

Roast at 350 for a few hours. Stir it once the tops of the fruits are black/brown and keep an eye on it at the end. You want it to be jammy--but not burnt.

This is optimal. The goo (frond) in the corner is still soft and easy to scrape off the pan, but it's not watery. Scrape off the pan with a spatula into a bowl. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. A splash of balsamic vinegar if you like. Sometimes I run an immersion blender through it and sometimes I don't. Just depends on the texture you prefer.

Pack into jars for the fridge OR zip-lock bags for the freezer. This becomes the base for every chili, pasta sauce, pizza, lasagne, stew you can think of. I like it instead of ketchup on a burger. Mix with some horseradish and it's a cocktail sauce. Spoon it straight from the jar over a disk of goat cheese and eat with crackers; it's a dinner you will crave.

Here is the long version of the info I gave at The Secret City:
Once upon a time, I was a little girl who spent my days reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Over and over I read them, fascinated by the rural life, the complete, total focus on domestic chores and of course, the food. There was rarely enough of it, so much time was spent obtaining it and preparing it and what there was, could never, ever be wasted.

The notions of frugality and making something out of nothing, fascinated me. I longed to have a garden, raise chickens, milk a cow. By 12 years old, I had read the books so often, I considered myself somewhat of an expert on homestead survival and self-sufficiency, at least in the food department.

Fast forward to 2007, and my husband and I and our 3 kids are watching the PBS documentaries Frontier House and 1900 House...remember those? Where they took a family and set them up in an exact environment of a period in history and through reality television, watch the modern day people try to make a go of it in an obnoxiously accurate situation. It was while watching Frontier house, set in Montana 1883, that I announced to my family “You know, I'd be REALLY good at this”...to which the four of them responded by laughing so hard they nearly fell off the couch.
Apparently they saw me more as an “Eloise at the Plaza” girl than a “Laura” from Little House on the Prairie.

Teasing aside, the frontier foods are the foods of MY fantasy. Oh sure, I'd love a fantasy food like a doughnut that makes you lose weight, or french fries that are calorie free and good for your heart. When my kids were little, I used to fantasize about a drive thru restaurant that would serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, little containers of carrot sticks and milk in disposable sippy cups, something to make the tedium of toddler life a little easier. Everyone's fantasy is different.

Sadly I did not grow up and live on a farm. Perhaps even more dismaying is that I don't live at the Plaza either. Predictably, I live in suburbia. I'm lucky enough to have space for a garden, but not enough for a goat...this is a good thing for everyone but me. However, like most gardeners, I am usually stuck with more vegetables than I can use and being who I am, I am not about to let anything go to waste.

When I was asked to make this food offering for the Fantasy theme, Tomato Sludge was the first thing that popped to mind. I realized this was NOT going to be anyone else's fantasy. Oh sure I could have made sparkly purple cupcakes with unicorns and luster dust on top...but Tomato Sludge is my dream- come-true food and here's why:

In my 20's, I was a serious canner. I'd not only make jam out of all my garden fruit, I'd actually go buy more or find more fruit to can. Nowadays, once I deal with 3-4 rounds of making jam, I'm done. It's just so much work. BUT Tomato Sludge is easy. You don't need a recipe. It doesn't make a mess. Although it takes some time, you can start a batch at 9 am and at 10, when you want to go to the gym, you turn the oven off and leave it in there. When you get home, check to see how far the residual heat has cooked the pan, and turn the oven back on.

Tomato Sludge makes use of all my tomatoes. It is fool-proof. It's gluten free, lactose free, there's no added sugar. It's good for you and economical. It freezes like a dream and it becomes the base of every pasta sauce, pizza sauce, chili, stew, minestrone soup you can make. Mix in some horseradish and it's cocktail sauce for shrimp. Add some liquid smoke and spice and it becomes BBQ sauce. It is versatile. And the whole clearly is greater than the sum of it's parts. Roasting the fruit elevates them to a realm that's unexpected and complex. And that's all there is to it: On an oiled pan, I toss tomatoes, garlic and some salt and pepper. If I have other fruit to use up, those go on too. I mostly have grapes and figs from my yard, but if I have a plum or peach languishing on the counter, I'll include that as well. It all goes in the oven at about 350 degrees and when the tops of the tomatoes are deep brown, I'll mix it up a bit with a spatula. When the whole pan has evaporated the liquid, but it still moist, it's done. You take it out and scrape the pan really well and tip the whole lot into a bowl. If I have time, I'll run an immersion blender through the mass of it, but if I'm feeling lazy, I let it cool and dish it up into small zip lock bags and pop them in the freezer where they can live for at least a year.

My favorite way to enjoy Tomato Sludge is to put several spoons of it over a disk of room temperature goat cheese and eat it with those little rice crackers you get from Trader Joe's. Add a cocktail or glass of wine and you can call it dinner. No regrets. I suppose indulging in cocktail hour means there's a bit more Eloise in me than I'd like to admit, but I'm positive that if given the chance, Laura Ingalls would have sat down around 4 pm, kicked off her high buttoned shoes and enjoyed a drink and a little nosh. Here's to Laura.