Fresh Tomato Pesto + Freezing Tomatoes

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Can you tell it’s tomato season? Fresh tomatoes are the best. But I’ve been over that already. Last week was Week of the Free Tomatoes for me (I passed by a yard with free tomatoes on my way home and on of my farmer friends had extra that she gave me as well), and I think I have made good use of them.

I will have you know that I didn’t even think about making pesto from fresh tomatoes (sundried tomatoes, yes, but never raw), and then I came across this recipe is from Food 52 and I had to try it. It is more watery than normal pesto, and actually I couldn’t decide about it at first, but it’s one of those dishes that tastes better as you eat more of it. I am now a big fan. It also dovetailed nicely my freezing of tomatoes, which I will also share here.

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This is also convenient for you dairy-free folks out there (Mother), since it doesn’t have cheese but remains very creamy. I admit that it benefits from a sprinkling on top, but that can easily be substituted by some toasty breadcrumbs, or even something like nutritional yeast if you’re into that (I wasn’t born in the 60s and had no idea what it was until fairly recently; not really my jam but I can see the appeal).

Tomatoes in this recipe do need blanching to remove the skins (not that you have to blanch them to do this, it just makes it énormément easier; also really you could make it with skins on, you’d just have tomato skins clunking up your pesto and it might get caught in the food processor blade). If you’d like, do a bunch at the same time, and then freeze the rest! I was thinking about canning them but don’t have a pressure canner and it seems like more work and safety concern, so I went with freezing (for now). Often tomatoes are cheap this time of year in bulk, especially if you get ones that are not absolutely perfect (i.e. don’t sell as well at the market but are still great). They might be what I am most excited about in my freezer right now.

(Well, that’s probably not true. I have a lot of exciting food in my freezer/I need a bigger freezer: garlic scape pesto, blueberries, strawberries, kale pesto, homemade bread, cherries, blueberry cake, tofu chunks (freezing tofu changes the texture, and obviously it lasts longer there than in the fridge, if you want to buy it in bulk), basil pesto, cookie dough, chicken thighs, water buffalo sausage, egg whites, brownies (they freeze shockingly well, and then when you need a brownie, as happens, YOU HAVE THEM. It’s amazing), corn (sliced from the cob and into a freezer bag), green beans (blanched and frozen), tomatoes, tomato reduction, and now fresh tomato pesto (although I’m not totally convinced this will freeze as well as the other items, due to the high water content). Anyway, you understand.)

I was at the grocery store today to do some price comparisons and you can get tomatoes for cheaper there but I’m not convinced they would taste like anything at all. And they looked a little grayish. Like I’ve said before, Backyard Farms does have pretty great hothouse tomatoes, but they were not cheaper than ones at the farmer’s market, so save them for winter emergencies. What I’m trying to say here is, it’s worth it to eat seasonally. You might not enjoy fresh pesto tomato toasts in the winter, but instead you can savor rich tomato reductions over pasta or in chili. And by preparing now, you can save yourself money and disappointment (over lackluster store-bought sauce, which is a real thing although the phrase sounds a little tropey to me at this point) later.

Fresh tomato pesto, aka Pesto Trapanese à la Food 52
10 ripe tomatoes, like roma or plum (NOT the juicy kind); or MORE if you want to freeze some
1/2 cup almonds
Garlic (4ish cloves—make sure there is plenty)
A handful of basil leaves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Boil water in a large pot. Score the undersides of the tomatoes (cut a little x on the bottom). Prepare a large bowl of ice water if you have time. Put the tomatoes carefully in the boiling water only for about 1 minute (you will probably want to start taking them out before the minute is over, because it takes some time if you only have a spoon, or even with a small strainer—I wanted to keep the water to cook pasta later, so I didn’t pour everything into the sink, and anyway that might damage the tomatoes). Place them right into the ice water. The skins should now peel off very easily. Core the tomatoes and carefully squeeze out the seeds and juice into another bowl (I followed this guide). Reserve this juice for later. You should be left with reasonably un-watery tomatoes; let them drain more if you can. For freezing, put them in a freezer bag (maybe 2/3 full), get rid of all the excess air, seal it up, and put it in your freezer.

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The Kitchn also notes that you can just freeze whole tomatoes, although I don’t have room in my freezer for that.

Tomatoes for the pesto should be chopped a bit. If you don’t have time for blanching, etc., and you don’t mind skins, I suspect it would still be delicious. Do squeeze out the juice though, or it will be too watery.

Toast the almonds (nuts always need to be toasted. It releases all the flavors and makes everything better. I generally toast a bunch at once, because that way I don’t have to turn on my oven every time I need them for something like this). Grind up the almonds and garlic in a food processor (traditionalists will stick to a mortar-and-pestel, but I don’t have one so I guess I risk blade oxidation) until pretty small but not into a paste (almond butter is delicious, but not the goal here), then add basil and chop a bit. Throw in the tomatoes and some olive oil and pulse until your desired texture—some chunks of tomato would be fine, but it is also good nice and creamy.

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Serve over pasta, on toast, you know the drill. Actually this is particularly good over some gently sautéed or crispy kale.

What do you do with all the extra tomato juice?? This may be better than the actual pesto. If you like green smoothies you can add it to that, or just strain it and drink it. A friend of mine also suggested that tomato juice is useful for bathing a cat who has been sprayed by a skunk. For those of you without cats to worry about, and those who are willing to take a very small risk for something fantastically delicious, I recommend simmering it on the stove for a long time, straining out the seeds as you can/feel like it and reducing it a whole bunch. This tomato reduction is PACKED with flavor, is truly amazing, and can then be (guess what) frozen. I’ll let you know when I use it, but my guess is that it will be a replacement for tomato paste.

Make sure you label and date everything in your freezer.

Happy tomato-ing!

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