Preserving Garden Tomatoes


San Marzanos awaiting transformation.

Tomato sauce recipes are ubiquitous. Ask your friends and they will all have their own versions which most cling to like a plum pit. If you grow your own tomatoes like I do, you want to do something really special with your precious harvest.

San Marzanos in abundance!

San Marzanos in abundance!

This year I am growing Italian San Marzano heirloom tomatoes. Originating from the town of San Marzano sul Sarno in southern Italy near Naples, they are a prized Italian treasure. You can usually find the canned version in specialty stores but rarely will you see them in the fresh fruit section of the grocery stores or even at Farmer’s Markets. They are a smaller, more elongated version of an American plum tomato or Roma, with a thick pulp and low acidity which makes them perfect for preserving. As if overnight, about five pounds of them ripened simultaneously in my garden. It was time to can.

How did I decide on what kind of sauce to make with these coveted tomatoes? I consulted my library of traditional Italian cookbooks from Giuliano Buglialli to Ada Boni. The suggestions ranged from complex to simple. From my travels in Italy, I know that the true Italian version of “sugo di pomodoro” or tomato sauce is not to embellish it with too many flavors. The intention is to keep it simple so the tang of the tomato can shine. I liked Bugialli’s technique of simplicity so improvised with my own twist.

San Marzano Tomato Sauce
Prep time

Cook time

Total time


Recipe type: Tomato Sauce
Serves: 6 cups

  • 4-5 lbs of San Marzano or Italian Plum tomatoes
  • 2 tbs Garlic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Handful of basil chiffonade (thinly sliced basil leaves)

  1. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise.
  2. Place in a deep saucepan.
  3. Stir in Garlic Olive Oil
  4. Stir in basil. The basil helps bring out the flavor of the tomato.
  5. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally until juice is released and tomatoes break down. This took about 2 hours.

The finished sauce, thick and juicy and delectable.

The finished sauce, thick and juicy and delectable.

Most people will pass it through a food mill to eliminate the skins and seeds. Not me. I am ok with seeing and eating the entire fruit.
You can either pour it over hot pasta and sprinkle with parmesan or preserve it by canning like I did. Instead of placing my jars in a water bath and sealing my cans, I opt to freeze my sauce in the jars. It lasts nicely, keeps its vibrant red color and is easy!

Yield: About 6+ cups of sauce. I could just eat it with a spoon out of the jar.

Yield: About 6+ cups of sauce. I could just eat it with a spoon out of the jar.

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
― Miles Kington

Ciao with Love,


The Beet Goes On

My first tomato of the season!

My first tomato of the season!

I’d love to step into Op’s shoes, or whatever goddesses wear on their feet. While perusing websites relating to my upcoming trip to Italy, I came upon a dictionary of goddesses. This one caught my attention. Ops, rumored to be married to Saturn, is “an agricultural goddess of abundance personifying the earth’s riches.”*

Ops is the Goddess of the Harvest and Opulence

Ops is the Goddess of the Harvest and Abundance

Today my mom and I were the Ops twins; she cleaning up my raised beds and harvesting beets, Swiss chard, peas and red cabbage and moi; filling holes dug by my dogs, planting a new baby bay laurel tree, staking up my berry vines and eternally weeding.

red cabbageFinally ready to harvest after 5 1/2 months of TLC.

My Ops Twin - Mom

My Ops Twin – Mom

Giggling and chatting away like two teenagers who just love spending time together, the work energized our souls. The golden warmth of the sun embraced my body, almost magically pulling me closer to the earth. I was the goddess of agriculture if only for a moment. It felt really good.

These brilliant chard stems were too gorgeous not to share.

These brilliant chard stems were too gorgeous not to share.

In honor of my beet harvest, I decided to make something out of my comfort zone. My neighbor, Ione, makes delicious pickled beets. In fact, she is the pickling queen, using vinegar for everything from octopus to fava beans.

Roasted in foil at 400 degress for about an hour.

Roasted in foil at 400 degrees for about an hour.

I asked for her recipe. Roast, peel, then slice or cube the beets, she replied. Top with balsamic vinegar, a bay leaf and a sprinkling of peppercorns. That’s it! Marinate a few hours or a few days. I marinated one batch with a traditional red balsamic vinegar and one with a white balsamic vinegar from The San Felipe Olive Oil Company who makes thick and delicious vinegars. It has a slight sweetness that I think marries well with the sugar in the beets.

My salade compose. The darker beets on the left were marinated in red balsamic vinegar and the beets on the right drank the white balsamic with a dash of pomegranate vinegar. The peas are freshly harvested and so tender, I decided not to cook them.

My salade composée. The darker, velvet-colored beets on the left were marinated in red balsamic vinegar and the pinker beets on the right drank the white balsamic with a dash of pomegranate vinegar. The peas are freshly harvested and so tender, I decided not to cook them. Drizzle with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. A beautiful lunch!

After harvesting nine large maroon rubies and roasting the root, there still remained the beet greens in plentitude. The leaves are tender and hold their shape when sautéed with olive oil, mushrooms and a shallot. For those whose taste buds require a softer taste in greens, or think the kales are too strong in flavor, try beet greens. You will be pleasantly surprised and by utilizing the entire plant, you are getting two veggies for the price of one!

A smart way to enjoy the greens and keep them fresh!

A smart way to enjoy the greens and keep them fresh!

As gardening connects the soul to the earth; cooking opens the soul to the arts; and believing expands the soul to the future. Mary Knight

Avec l’amour de ma maison à la vôtre, le bonheur et la bonne santé  (With love from my house to yours, happiness and good health)


* www.jesterbear.com/Aradia/goddesses.html#Diana

** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ops

Plum Crazy

Late summer is my favorite time of year. The skies are clean, the breezes warm and the markets are bursting with late harvest veggies and fruits. So many home and garden projects have taken me away from my writing time. In exhaustion, I  find myself sneaking in an occasional afternoon nap, imitating my dogs who get tired watching me work.

My snoozing Star.

This Labor Day weekend my family from Denver arrived to get in the last licks of summer and enjoy the ocean waves. My sister-in-law, Mirna, brought with her several pounds of Italian plums, just plucked from her Colorado tree. We would make Spiced Plum Jam she announced.  I learned that Italian Plums are a European type (European domestica), and are harvested in late summer and early fall. Longer and thinner, more like a Roma tomato, they slice beautifully and the pits are much easier to remove than their Santa Rosa sisters. They remind me of elderly petite Italian women elegantly enrobed in deep purple capes.

Ladies of Italy

This was my first experience cooking with these sophisticated beauties. Mirna, who is a fabulous and creative cook and often does not use recipes, demonstrated how to slice the plums, and then cut them in thirds to make eight cups.

My beautiful sister-in-law, the chef and creative goddess.

Mis en place. Plums, lemons, cinnamon sticks, cloves.

Awaiting spice in their lives!

Using a wide grater, we removed the rind of three lemons.

The thick zest will give a deeper lemon accent.

Into the copper pot went a handful of cloves, about three tablespoons, 6-7 cinnamon sticks, 11/2 cups of sugar and a scant two cups of water. This jam will have character and flavor!

Sugar Plums

Dissolving the sugar and ready to cook.

The spicy plums come to a boil and reduced to a simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. The kitchen is quickly infused with spicy aromas reminiscent of baking gingerbread men at holiday time. We chuckle because it is blazing hot outside.

Bubble bubble. Aromas fill the kitchen with spice.

The French Pandora tunes bring us back to summer and now time to pour the spicy goodness into clean jars for sealing.

Funneling the preserves into hot jars.

15 minutes in a water bath and the lids give a sharp “pop,” creating the seal and indicating the plum jam can wait, patiently and infinitely, for someone to open the jar and delight in its sweetness. Spicy Plum Jam is the perfect holiday gift too. It pairs well with pork or chicken and is yummy spread on brioche toast. For those wishing to jazz this recipe up even more, Mirna suggests adding peppercorns or even crystalized ginger.

Ready for gifting or as I did, smothering it on buttermilk pancakes.

Cooking with Mirna is always fun and I love her spontaneity and joy of life. I envision many more culinary experiments with her in the future!

Ruby Beauties

Cherry Clafoutis in its glory.

Hi my faithful readers,

Do you sometimes get that overwhelmed feeling? That’s where I am today. I so want to share with you everything that is swirling around in my head. But where do I find the time? Since returning from France with a million ideas to post, I find that my garden, my home, my real workplace, my dogs, and everything else is catching up with me..so be patient and as soon as I get caught up, my posts will come as regularly as you have come to expect. For now, enjoy the season of cherries.

I know summer has arrived when the cherries have finally made their appearance at my local markets. Worldwide shipping has made it possible to have peaches, nectarines and plums in out-of-peak season but there is only one cherry season – thank goodness.

Wild sweet cherries along the trail.

The French love their cherries. Most homes I visited in the Dordogne have backyards abundant with fruit trees and they all have a couple of cherry trees. The hiking trails of southern France are dotted with wild cherry trees and hikers often stop for a quick nibble. Last year while hiking in the Perigord region, I was fortunate to experience this treat, along with the fraises des bois or wild strawberries that grew along the roadside.

Our hiking group enjoying a snack courtesy of Mother Nature. Note the cherry trees on the right.

My friend Jacques invited me to have drinks with friends of his in Villeneuve. When we arrived, our hostess was in the kitchen, her table overflowing with the harvest of her cherry trees. She explained that it was taking her all day just to pit the cherries so she could preserve her bounty. Of course, she will make the French traditional dessert, clafoutis as well.

Fresh, ruby cherries await their future.

Clafoutis is a country French dessert originating from the Limousin region. This rustic cherry-studded pancake, pronounced kla-foo-TEE, is a favorite among many French households. In fact, everywhere I was invited, it was cherry clafoutis – for an afternoon snack or for dessert. One thing that surprised me was that the home cooks do not pit their cherries. You just plow through the spongy cake, carefully chewing the cherry before removing the pit from your mouth somewhat gracefully. Upon researching the cherry and this recipe, I discovered that there is a very good reason for leaving the pits intact in the cherry. Traditionally the cherries were left unpitted so the kernels could release their delicate almond flavor as they baked.

Beautifully puffed straight out of the oven.

The recipe I’ve included here is from Joanne Weir in a Fine Cooking Magazine. Here is a link for the recipe. http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/cherry-almond-clafoutis.aspx

I chose this recipe above all others because the sliced almonds gave it a sexier appearance and I liked the fact that the cherries are soaked in Kirsch, a cherry liquor, to give the clafoutis a bit more flavor.

Cherry-dotted crust – so lovely!

My recipe turned out perfectly and I loved how the cherries embraced the edges of the pie dish, forming a pretty crust. You might want to make this to celebrate Bastille Day, this Saturday, July the 14th.

Warm clafoutis with a dust of powdered sugar makes an elegant, yet simple summer dessert. Serve with ice cream or crème fraîche for added decadence.

Preserving and canning are also my summer passions but this year I wanted to do something other than making jam. After perusing various cherry recipes, I landed upon Brandied Cherries. Yum! These too are easy to make, will be lovely holiday gifts and delicious spooned over some vanilla ice cream.  The recipe, which I successfully halved, is from Epicurious http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Brandied-Black-Cherries-102090

Poached cherries ready for their brandy syrup bath.

Spoon the cherries into pretty jars, let them macerate in a cool dark place for a few months (if you can wait) and you will be rewarded with the fresh taste of cherries with a hint of brandy. Sophisticated.

Glistening cherries will sleep for several months to intensify the brandy flavor. Spoon over ice cream and use the liquid as a base for a spritzer or champagne cocktail.

Fruit desserts are my favorite so look for more creations in upcoming posts. I just bought a pound of blueberries so I will be experimenting this week with new ideas. Until next week, a bientot!