Richard Azzolini, Chef Extraordinaire  
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There's a Chef in Your Freezer: Tomato Building Blocks Chapter

Succulent love apples, ripe, juicy tomatoes are among the kitchen's greatest treasures. Late summer and early autumn, when tomatoes are vine ripe, inexpensive, and bursting with flavor, is the best time to put up a large batch to use later when the summer sun fades.

Our tomato preparations will use beefsteak or any full-size tomatoes and plum or Roma tomatoes. The riper you can find them the better. In fact, you can often buy over-ripe tomatoes at a good discount from farmstands and produce markets. Ask your greengrocer to save you the softies--they are culinary gold!

If the tomatoes need a little extra ripening, try this trick: put them in a brown paper bag with a banana, seal the bag and put it in a cool place for a day or two. The ethyline gas the banana releases will ripen the tomatoes.

Concasse Tomatoes and Tomato Nectar

Beefsteak Tomatoes-concasse

You will need to process the tomatoes that you've brought home or grown before you can use them in many wonderful dishes. There are four steps; I recommend you process all the tomatoes through each step before you go on to the next step. The result of this process is known as concasse tomatoes.

1. Wash all the tomatoes in a large bowl of cool water with a drop of soap like Dr. Bronner's to remove any dirt. Rinse the tomatoes. Cut out the core and the stem spot-the spot where the tomato was attached to the stem-of each beefsteak tomato. There is a small tool called a tomato shark-it looks like a serrated mini melon baller-that makes this a one-second task.

2. Next, we want to remove the skins. The easiest way to do this is to drop the tomatoes into boiling water for a quick dip to loosen the skin. How long to dip is the question. The riper the tomato, the shorter the time necessary. The goal is to blanch just until the skin can be easily removed. Use one tomato to test the time needed: Take one tomato and drop it into the water; remove it after 30 seconds, and drop it into a pan of cold water. Now take a paring knife and see if the skin comes off easily. If not, return the test tomato to the boiling water for another dip and retest. Once you have determined the approximate time, you can process several tomatoes at once. Be careful not to overcook, or the tomatoes will become mushy and more difficult to work with. For best results, blanch as quickly as possible. Once you have blanched all the tomatoes, pull off the skins with a sharp paring knife. Save the skin-it's full of flavor. We will use it later.

3. Cut the tomatoes in half. It's important to make the cut in the right direction so you can squeeze the most out of the tomatoes. If you think of the stem end as the north pole and the opposite end as the south pole, then make the cut through the "equator." Now, gently squeeze out the seeds. The easiest way to do this is to grasp the tomato-half in the palm of your hand, cut-side facing out, held perpendicular to the counter and over a bowl. Squeeze the tomato-half gently, and use the fingers of your other hand to to help dislodge the seeds and pulp so they fall into the bowl. If you find the tomato juice irritating to your skin, I suggest you use disposable vinyl or latex gloves, available at a drugstore.

The goal here is to remove as many of the seeds as possible. Seeds get hard when cooked and become slightly bitter. Remember, the Duchess of Windsor fired her chef when she found a seed in her tomato bisque. (I'm not suggesting you must remove every last seed but let the duchess be your inspiration!) Save all the seeds and juice that you remove. You will use them to make tomato nectar.

4. The tomatoes are now ready to be used in recipes. They can be used whole or chopped into 1/2 inch cubes.

This process results in a very refined tomato product. Making a tomato purée is actually simpler-we'll explain how at the end of this chapter.

But first let's not ignore the tomato seeds, skins and juice that we've set aside in preparing the concasse. They are full of flavor and will yield a wonderful tomato nectar.

Preparing tomato nectar

1. In a food processor or blender put all the skin, juice, and seeds. Process until liquified.

2. Pass the resulting liquid through a fine sieve or strainer. The best strainer for this purpose is called a chinoise. A chinoise is a conical strainer with a very fine mesh. I have found that the easiest way to extract the juice is to press and push down and against the side of the strainer with your fingers or a rubber spatula. The strainer should be fine enough to keep out the seeds-remember, the Duchess is watching!

3. To concentrate the flavor, bring the liquid to a boil. Lower the heat to a strong simmer and reduce by half, until it has the consistency of canned tomato juice (of course it will taste much better!)

4. Once the juice is sufficiently reduced, strain it.

5. The tomato nectar is now ready to use. If you like, you can continue to cook it. Eventually, it will become sauce-like in consistency and concentrated in flavor.

Variations

To make the tomato nectar even more interesting, you can add some of these flavor enhancers: onion, leek greens, Italian parsley stalks, garlic, roasted garlic skins (see p. 19), carrots, celery, and herbs such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, or bay leaf. The goal is to add a subtle flavoring, so don't go overboard. For each quart of juice, add at least 1 cup of rough-chopped vegetables. A few sprigs of fresh herbs will be fine.

This will produce a very delicious nectar which can be used as a drink (you never had a Bloody Mary so good), a poaching liquid for fish or chicken, a base for soup, or a "stock" for a great tomato risotto.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes and Tomato Purée

Plum tomatoes can be prepared using the concasse method above, but I find it simpler to oven roast them. Oven roasting makes for a more "rustic tomato," but it is much easier to do. Good news for those of you who were anticipating nightmares from peeling all those tomatoes! Here are the steps:

Oven Roasted Plum Tomatoes

1. Wash the plum tomatoes thoroughly, drain them in a colander, and split them in half down the length of the tomato.

2. Scoop out the seeds and set aside. A melon baller makes this quick work. You can process the seeds the same way as for beefsteak tomato seeds (see above).

3. Lay the tomatoes in a baking dish which has been very lightly brushed with olive oil or sprayed with a non-stick olive oil spray. It's OK if the tomatoes overlap, but don't pile them up; it's better to use more pans. Non-stick pans work well for this purpose. Drizzle the tomatoes with a little olive oil and sprinkle lightly with sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper. (The olive oil can be omitted if you desire a fat-free purée, but the purée will not taste as good!)

4. Roast in a 350° oven until soft. This should take about one hour. Remove them from the oven. The tomatoes are now ready to use. They can be used whole, diced, or processed into a smooth purée. One advantage of puréeing is that the skins will be pulverized and become part of the smooth sauce. This purée can be enhanced to make sauces and soups. I find a blender is indispensable in creating the tomato purée. Just add the following step to the previous ones:

Plum tomato purée

5. Allow the tomatoes to cool slightly. Fill the blender jar, but be careful not to over-fill it. Keep the lid slightly ajar when you turn on the blender to avoid a steam build-up, which can result in a spattered mess. (This rule applies whenever you are using a blender with warm ingredients.) It is a good idea to start the blender on a slow speed, then to finish on the highest speed.

You will be amazed at the result. The skins vanish into the purée. A food processor would chop up the tomatoes, but would leave bits of the skin recognizable-yuk! The blender totally pulverizes the skins. They become part of the smooth purée without the unpleasant texture tomato skins would otherwise impart. This purée will find uses in the chapters on sauces, soups, and salad dressings.

Oven-dried plum tomatoes

Follow the directions for the oven-roasted plum tomatoes through step 3. Roast the tomatoes in a 250° oven for 5 to 6 hours, until the tomatoes have shrunk by half their size. This will result in the tomatoes having a very intense flavor. They can be processed into a thick paste via the blender method, or used chopped or whole.

Oven-roasted Beefsteak Tomatoes

1. Wash and seed the tomatoes as discussed in the concasse preparation section above (p.11, steps 1 and 3) but omit the blanching (step 2).

2. Place the tomatoes cut side up into a baking dish prepared as for plum tomatoes. You can squeeze them in as tightly as you like but do not overlap them.

3. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

4. Roast in a 350° oven until soft and lightly colored, approxi-mately 60-75 minutes.

5. Remove from the oven. Unlike plum tomatoes, beefsteaks will release a lot of liquid during the cooking process.

6. Place the tomatoes in a colander and let the juices drain into a bowl. Save every drop! The juice can be processed as we did for the tomato nectar above (p.12), except for one difference. The olive oil will drain off with the liquid. I suggest you skim it off the surface and add it to the tomatoes.

7. There are two ways to process the tomatoes. The skins will slip off easily now. You can simply slip off the skins and leave the tomatoes whole, or process them in a blender as you would the plum tomatoes (p.14).

Given all the methods discussed in this chapter to prepare tomato building blocks, which method should you employ? The answer depends on how much effort you are willing to put in, and on the uses you will make of these building blocks. For soups and sauces the oven roasted purée works excellently. The concasse tomatoes are great for garnishes in salads and soups, and for adding color and flavor to our quick-sauté recipes.

 

For more information, contact Chef Azzolini at
(415) 680 6204.
or email ChefAzzolini@gmail.com .
Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have about my chef services or cooking classes.


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