I have just done a listening exercise with my ESL students on The Marshmallow Test … a 1960s experiment that offered four-year-olds one marshmallow off the bat, but an additional marshmallow if they could just wait alone in a room for 15 minutes with that first marshmallow and not eat it.
Astonishingly the findings over time showed that kids who could delay gratification for longer times at four, were likely to be more successful socially, educationally and professionally when they grew up than the kids who couldn’t wait and sucked that first marshmallow down as soon as they were alone with it.
Yup. Who you were at four is a pretty good indicator of who you’ll be at 35 on up….Yikes.
(For more in-depth listening go to ultra-cool and funky program RadioLab)
I am going to connect this to tomatoes. I really am. Stay with me.
As it happens, it will be another year before we have farm-fresh tomatoes again. The winter hothouse ones are hardly worth eating; if I buy them at all, I buy the grape tomatoes, which at least show a bit of spunk and texture, at least compare to the mealy wan pinkness of the larger varieties.
I could just gorge on the tomatoes I have left in all manner of ways at their peak of freshness and resign myself to tin cans of acidic puree, or the awful stuff with the basil already in it (ugh; I have something of an aversion to those “Italian-style” tinned tomatoes) until summer comes again.
Or, I could delay gratification.
I might be cheating myself out of right-now blazing summer flavor in your sauce, but here’s the prize.
I get it back some time in the middle of February, where here in the Northeast/Middle Atlantic States it has been cold and dark and relatively dreary for months and it feels like the weather will never lighten up again.
This easy-to-make puree can sit in your freezer for months and be liberated from the ice box in the bottomless days of winter to cheer you right up in a zesty sauce or zingy soup that screams of hope and sunshine.
For this, I can not only delay gratification, but also actually do a little prep. Even strain out some seeds. Can you?
To freeze tomatoes without cooking them down, click here.
Basic Home-Made Tomato Puree
2lbs paste tomatoes
(Roma is most common but San Marzano wins the taste tests for most people and also shows some resistance to late blight!)
- Get a pot of water on the boil – enough water to cover the tomatoes generously.
- Have a large slotted spoon to transfer tomatoes
- Have a big bowl of ice water ready – large enough to accommodate all the tomatoes at once.
- Have a fine sieve or food mill ready (optional, unless your tomatoes have a lot of seeds, because you will want to get rid of them.)
- Have a couple of freezer-safe pint or quart containers (pints are nice to make smaller portions when you want them).
While the water comes to a boil, core any tomatoes that have a large core.
Place all tomatoes in boiling water. It should only take a minute or two for the skins to start wrinkling and splitting. Take the tomatoes out as they split and plunge directly into ice water.
When the tomatoes have cooled, peel them (the skins will come off easily) and discard skins. If you are using a food mill, mill tomatoes into pot (the same one you did the blanching in; just dump the water and rinse a bit). You can also do this after the tomatoes have cooked down; that’s what I prefer. If you are not seeding them, just put them directly in the pot.
Cook the tomatoes at medium, stirring occasionally until they begin to break down. Then simmer gently for an hour or more, until you have a slightly thick liquid. If you have not yet milled or put them through a strainer, you can do it now. Put tomatoes in your freezer containers. If you have too much space at the top, cut a circle of wax paper just slightly larger than the surface area of the tomatoes and cover. The sauce will keep this way for months. While I could use it even tomorrow for something, the pleasure of having fresh summer tomato taste in the middle of winter makes me delay gratification until February.
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