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Photograph by Ari Levaux
Quest for Fire-Roasted Flavor: Oven-roasted tomatoes make a sweet, densely flavored, easy-on-the-chef sauce.

Harvest Boon

Chef Boy Ari's secrets to preserving the fall harvest

By Ari LeVaux

Dear Chef Boy,
Last year you published a recipe for oven-roasted tomato sauce. I made it with my homegrown tomatoes and it was the best sauce I have ever tasted. Unfortunately, I have misplaced the recipe. Could you send it my way? Thanks for all your food and garden wisdom. —Karen

Dear Karen,
It must be tomato season. Your letter arrived on the very day that Wrathful Steve, a pissy old farmer with a heart of gold, gave me a box of Sungold tomatoes he had left over at the end of market. These cherry tomatoes are ripe when orange and are one of the tastiest varieties you'll ever find. These were so ripe there wasn't a chance they'd last until the next market, so Wrathful Steve just gave them to me.

Such is the blessing and the curse of my job. I attract food, then I become a slave to it. It took two hours to pull the little green stems off each cherry tomato. I oven-roasted them uncut with olive oil, salt, whole cloves of garlic, slabs of onion and sprigs of tarragon and basil (rosemary is also good). After 4-6 hours at 250-300 degrees, stirring often and never letting it burn, all the nontomato entities disappeared. Meanwhile, much of the water had cooked off, leaving a thick sauce made thicker by all the little cherry tomato skins. I could have puréed it; chose not to; next time I might.

Anyway, you wanted to know what I wrote last year:

"Wash 10 pounds Roma tomatoes and cut out the ends and imperfections. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees until they collapse. Let them cool, then pull off the skins, squeezing them to save the juice. Add 1-1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup roasted garlic, 2 tablespoons sea salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons sugar and, if possible, a splash or two of red wine. Purée, adjust the seasonings and simmer until reduced by 25 percent."

Because of its low water content, this sauce freezes really well. Just scoop it into a gallon ziplock, make it as flat as possible, then seal it and stick it in the freezer.

One thing to keep in mind is that tomato reacts with some metals, like iron or aluminum. So all this oven-roasting tomato business is best done in glass or ceramic ovenware.

And with herbs, especially potent ones like tarragon and rosemary, consider using whole sprigs. That way, if you taste your sauce and decide there's enough of that particular herb's flavor, you can pull the sprig.

Dear Chef Boy,
I've got the beet blues. I planted a big load of beets this year—a mixed bag with red, gold and other—and now, what to do with all these beets? —Beets me

Dear BM,
I was going to suggest pickled beets. They taste great and will store all winter long. Clean the beets, leaving the taproot and two inches of stem, and boil. When tender, drain the beets and let them cool, then slip the skins off. Cut off taproots.

Cut beets into the shape you want, perhaps slices, or quarters for medium-sized beets. Small beets can be left whole. Or cut them into cubes, rhombic dodecahedrons, whatever.

If you've never pickled before, buy some canning jars and lids and read the directions that come with them. That information will help you follow my directions.

Before you pack your beets, add a teaspoon of salt to each pint (or 2 teaspoons per quart). Then pack beets into clean, sterile jars, making sure to leave at least 1/2 inch of "head space" between the top of the beets and the rim of the jar.

In a pot, mix a brine of equal parts water and cider vinegar, with 1 cup of sugar for every 3 cups of brine. (You can use more or less sugar, as you wish.) Heat this until it just starts to boil, then remove from heat. You may wish to add pickling spices, or a mixture of equal parts allspice, cloves and cinnamon—the so-called "pickled beet spices." Like sugar, these spices are up to your own taste. But remember, you want a pretty potent brine here, to counteract the potency of the beets.

Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Wait at least eight weeks before opening.

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