Savor end-of-summer tomato bounty

Robin Mather
Chicago Tribune

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. Or make your secret signature pasta sauce to warm up winter nights. And of course, you’ll want to enjoy the fresh 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 such as 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 Pimento Cheese Topping

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 2 hours, 5 minutes

Makes: 6 to 8 servings

Notes: 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) pimentos, drained, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons hot sauce, such as Tabasco, Frank’s or Cholula

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat 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, about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Slice one to test it; it should be dry all the way through.

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 pie shell on oven’s top shelf; bake until lightly brown, 15 to 20 minutes, or according to package directions.

Make the topping: Combine 1 cup shredded cheese, mayonnaise, green onion, pimentos, garlic, hot sauce and black pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

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. Sprinkle about half the torn basil leaves over the tomatoes. Scatter half the crumbled crackers over the basil leaves.

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.

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.

Per serving (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

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, stirring occasionally, until the mixture attains the consistency of jam, about 40 minutes. (It’s OK if the tomatoes break down completely.) Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Taste and correct seasonings. Divide the conserve among 4 pint jars. Refrigerate when fully cooled.

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