July 1st, 2009

Catface Tomatoes

Sometime in the mid ’90’s, in what now seems like the way-back machine in terms of the life and times of our Nashville Farmers Market, it wasn’t so easy to find the best homegrown tomatoes. The plethora of vibrant heirlooms had not arrived on our agri-scene. You could count on Smileys’ Farm for Bradleys. The Howells had Beefsteaks. From time to time, smaller vendors would show up with their garden varieties and set up stands in the back market shed.

There, we discovered that the tastiest tomatoes also happened to be the ugliest. This we gleaned from one vendor–a gentleman with a shock of white hair and twinkly blue eyes who hawked his malformed “maters” along with his chow-chow and pepper sauces.

“Over here we got the best for the best price,” you’d hear his voice carry across the market shed. “Not a pretty face, but got a pretty taste. Come get your Catface tomatoes.”

Who could resist that call? You’d have to check it out…

He had quite the homely collection of reds: gnarled, scarred, with strange protuberances, overall resembling more the other end of the cat. But, the price was right; our man was convincing. We took a chance on a box of catface tomatoes.

Our white-haired friend explained that the “catfacing” happened early on in the development of the fruit—something about cooler temperature and watering issues—and that the later fruits of the plant “grew proper.”

“Even if they don’t look it, they still have the flavor.”

Oh yes. Those wonky catface tomatoes had an intense acid-candy sweetness. For catering purposes, we couldn’t use them on trays of caprese, for instance. But brushed with olive oil, roasted with onion, garlic, and a few sprigs of thyme, they made a chunky sauce that was moanin’-good.

These days, I don’t hear about the catfaces. All the odd-formed tomatoes are lumped together and sold under that all-encompassing term “culls.” Tally and John of Fresh Harvest Co-op have a considerable number of these less than perfect appearing fruits, offered for half the price of their primos. Such a deal!

Throughout the season, I ‘ll buy a lot of these culls, roast them, and freeze the sauce in tupperware containers. The roasted tomatoes freeze beautifully. They keep that taste of summer and will provide real solace during the winter drear. Tally asked me to post my recipe and remind us all that it’s a good idea to get our favorite tomatoes now and throughout the season to put up–one way or another—-while they are available. Who knows what twists and turns the summer weather will take?

Another reminder: Roasting is easy, but this year I will learn to can. I’m told it’s easy too. There’s only just so much freezer space….
More on that later!

These are ready to oven roast.

Post-roasting, the skins practically come off by themselves.

Keep some sauce in jars to refrigerate and use within a few days. Freeze the remainder.

Chunky Roasted Tomato Sauce
5 lbs. Tomatoes
1 medium Onion
4-6 cloves Garlic
Olive Oil
a few sprigs of fresh Thyme
Sea Salt
Coarse Ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Core tomatoes and cut in half, placing the flat surface down onto a roasting pan. Cut an onion into sixths or eighths and place around the tomatoes. Scatter the garlic cloves and sprigs of thyme. Drizzle or brush the vegetables with olive oil, then salt and pepper them. Roast for about 25 minutes, until tomatoes skins wrinkle and blister.
Cool, and then remove the tomato skins. (They slip off easily.) Chop large pieces and pack into containers to freeze. Or toss over some capellini and dust with a little parmesan! Makes 2 qts.

Posted in Recipes, Sauces, Vegan, Vegetables

7 Responses to “Catface Tomatoes”
  1. Maggie Says:

    Nance, I know this recipe works great – too easy!! I had my first great tomato sandwich made from “ugly” tomatoes from the Rutherford County Farmers Market – a slice of good French bread, good mayo (I do think a sandwich is a delivery system for mayo), and thick slices of good Tennessee tomato and a little salt – “moaning-good!!”

  2. veg head Says:

    This is great; I didn’t know that you could freeze tomatoes. Thanks!

  3. patti Says:

    Gorgeous Reds. Just love those summer tomatoes–”catface” or otherwise.

  4. Wendy Says:

    Sounds great–I learned another trick several years ago. If you want to be lazy, or plain run out of time,just throw the whole tomato, as is, in the freezer. When you are ready to make sauce, pull it out and rinse it under cool water. The skin peels off like a dream. You don’t get that wonderful roasted taste, but you do have summer tomatoes for your winter sauce.

  5. Teresa Says:

    Nancy, I’ve been eating these “cherokee purple” heirlooms for several years and they are the best! My variation on the roasting theme is to add a couple of ripe red peppers to the mix, roast as you do then put thru the largest holes of a food mill. You don’t even need to peel tomatoes or peppers. Makes a great sauce.
    Talk to all your older country ladies about canning tomatoes. They have all the good tricks.

  6. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Great tips, Wendy and Teresa.
    Maggie has learned a great deal about canning—and we will post on this a bit later in the summer!

  7. Madeleine Says:

    Nice shout-out on the Nashville Scene Bites!

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