Summer in Minnesota sometimes feels like an embarrassment of riches. It’s hard to remember the elegant poetry of bare branches against white snow when our surroundings are awash with color. The beauty takes your breath away.
Tomato season has gotten much more flavorful and colorful in recent years, to add to our rainbow of riches. We survived the era of the industrial hybrid tomato, and now we have a palette of hues and tomato flavors, thanks to the heirloom tomato revival.
We no longer have to make do with just one red, vaguely tomato-flavored variety. We choose between those streaked with green, hunky gems the color of pineapples, and orbs blushed with purple and black.
The accepted definition of an heirloom tomato is a variety that is at least 50 years old, and open-pollinated, not hybridized. What really matters most is that the tomato was bred for flavor, not disease resistance or ease of shipping. The best heirlooms were created by home gardeners with a passion for tomato flavor, and a flair for making each generation of their precious tomatoes a little tastier.
They are so good, you’ll want to save some for later. But I’m not talking about canning.
The super simple way to make the most of a big pile of good tomatoes is to roast them. Go ahead and enjoy some now, in this rustic pasta recipe. Freeze what you don’t eat in 1- to 2-cup portions. This is the easiest way to save some summer flavor, and give yourself a concentrated, easy to use pantry tomato sauce.
It’s best to do this in the morning, before it gets hot. Crank the oven to 400 degrees, and throw tomatoes, cut in chunks, in a deep roasting pan with a generous pour of extra-virgin olive oil. No need to chop garlic, as whole cloves roast to sweet perfection by the time the tomatoes are done. I add in fresh rosemary occasionally. At other times, I might toss in some twigs of thyme, oregano or sage leaves.
An hour in the hot oven cooks the juices down, concentrating all that summer flavor. The pan should be almost dry, with a few spots where the juices have caramelized onto the pan. What I don’t use in the next day or so, I will save in the freezer.
Then you have a taste of summer on tap, ready to use on pizzas, in soups, in casseroles, or easy pasta.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.