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Too many cherry tomatoes? Cook ’em slow

Recipe: Sauce or compote? It all depends

Many red cherry tomatoes of various sizes
Meaty Juliets and smaller cherry tomatoes-- all
homegrown -- go into this slow-cooked recipe.
(Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Not every recipe is going to turn out the way it says it will. That's just the way cooking goes -- lots of variables, including the equipment, ingredients and the cook's personal taste. But I like improvising in the kitchen, so if a result is not what I expected, I work to turn it into something I can use.

Thus, the slow-cooked cherry tomato compote I started that became a luscious slow-cooked tomato sauce. It's probably going to star in dinner tonight in a pasta and chicken dish, but I also could freeze it for later this  year.

What I started with was a New York Times Cooking recipe from last month. It uses 2 pounds of cherry tomatoes, which I didn't have at the time, but do now. The recently harvested Juliet tomatoes, collected in a big salad bowl, alone weighed over 2 pounds, so I was set. Then I decided to add enough small cherry tomatoes to make 3 pounds, upping the recipe accordingly.

All those went into my 6-quart slow cooker, along with the balsamic vinegar and other ingredients. I decided to use fresh thyme and fresh rosemary from my garden for the herbs.

So ... after the 6-hour cooking time ended just before bedtime, the tomatoes were still very red -- the little cherries all puffed out -- and they were all swimming in a LOT of liquid. And that's having used the meaty Juliets. What am I going to use this odd concoction for? (I've since thought of some uses, figures.) I pulled out the herb sprigs (more on that below) and decided to turn the slow cooker down to "warm" and keep it going all night, just to see if things would improve.

In the morning, the color had turned to dark red, and the smell was heavenly. But so many tomato skins! But my secret weapon for cooked tomato skins is my immersion blender. A regular blender works, too. Blended that compote mostly smooth, and now it's a lovely sauce. Recipe transformed!

Note on herbs: If you want to use rosemary, as I did, do not put the whole sprigs in the sauce. You'll wind up with many loose prickly rosemary leaves that are not fun to eat. The immersion blender took care of some of that, and if I wanted to strain the sauce I could get them all out.  But next time I make this, I'll strip the leaves from the stems first and chop them before adding to the slow cooker.

The thyme sprigs, by the way, were fine -- those leaves are tiny enough to blend in.

Slow-cooker cherry tomato compote or sauce

Makes about 5-1/2 cups


3 pounds cherry or grape tomatoes (roughly 7 cups, depending on the variety)

4 to 6 garlic cloves, smashed

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1-1/2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 or 3 bushy sprigs fresh herbs, such as thyme, parsley, rosemary (see note above), tarragon, sage or a mix

1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Tomatoes and herbs in slow cooker
The ingredients are ready to cook. See those rosemary sprigs?
They became a problem.


Place tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, herbs and red pepper flakes in the slow cooker. (Larger grape tomatoes like Juliets can be halved before cooking.) Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt and several grinds of black pepper over the ingredients, and stir to blend.

Cook for 6 hours on low, until the tomatoes are very soft. Remove the herb stalks.

At this point, you can remove the mixture from the slow cooker, stir in the lemon juice, and refrigerate to use as a savory compote the next day. I could see it poured over polenta, for example, or the tomatoes pulled out and served with a burrata cheese ball and bread slices.

If you want to make sauce, turn the slow cooker down to warm (or, if yours doesn't have that setting, keep it on low) and continue cooking for 8 to 10 hours. By this point, the tomatoes will be dark red and the mixture a little thicker. Stir in the lemon juice, and then blend all or part of the mixture (depending on the texture desired) using an immersion blender or regular stand blender. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.

Sauce and ladle
All blended, the sauce has a lovely creamy texture,
with some help from the olive oil in the recipe.

Use immediately, or refrigerate for a few days, or pack into freezer-safe containers and freeze for later use.


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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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