Blender Salsa

The other day I brought Thing 1 and Thing 2 out to the garden and enlisted their help to find all of the ripe tomatoes. Between us, we picked 10lbs of tomatoes, which seems like a lot for the size of garden that I have, but in the end that only yielded…

…Five 500mL jars of canned salsa, with a bit left over for immediate consumption. It’s always a bit disappointing to see how much ingredients can shrink down when you cook them, especially when you grew said ingredients yourself. However, this time I was much happier with the taste of the end result than I was with my last batch. This time I used the Blender Salsa recipe found on page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014). Like most salsas, this preserve is both vegan and vegetarian. It’s a really easy recipe, which appeals to me. I liked that it used lime juice and citric acid to increase the acidity, instead of using vinegar. I also liked that the recipe was free of added sugar, which is healthier anyway, but sugar’s unnecessary for flavour when cooking with cherry tomatoes. I did have to boil down the salsa a bit to obtain the desired consistency, but I’m beginning to think that that’s just a consequence of using predominantly cherry tomatoes. I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Healthy Veggie Tomato Sauce Recipe

Back in February I made a massive batch of Kerryann’s hidden vegetable pasta sauce, most of which I stuck in the freezer and thawed periodically to make spaghetti, lasagna, and pizza. We ran out near the start of the summer, at which point I decided to try to perfect my own tomato sauce recipe.

Don’t get me wrong, I adored the flavour of Kerryann’s, but I never got over the weird brownish-green that my attempts at the recipe ended up. I think that my previous suspicious were correct and that’s just because the proportions of fruits and vegetables are different here in Canada than they are in Britain, from whence the recipe originates.


Right now my little garden is yielding about 6lbs of tomatoes (mostly cherry tomatoes) every four or five days, so I need to keep up with the harvest.

For example, Kerryann’s recipe calls for eggplants (or rather, aubergines), among other ingredients. In my local grocery store, which does not specialize in particular kinds of produce, I was able to find four kinds of eggplant, all of which are extremely different sizes. So what is considered a “medium aubergine” in Britain? The video helps narrow the criteria down a bit, but I think that the produce here is just bigger. (I know that our leeks are freaking enormous.) Canada is a country that is very driven by agriculture, after all.


Top left — Indian eggplant (max 3″ long); top right — Thai eggplant (max 2″ long); bottom left — Chinese eggplant (about 12″ long); bottom right — American/globe eggplant (14″+ long, very wide at one end)

There were some other problems with importing this recipe. I’ve never found tomato puree in tubes here, although canned tomato paste is commonplace. I’m not sure if substituting the latter for the former would effect the colour or flavour, as I can’t get my hands on the kind in tubes to compare. I also had a hard time finding sieved tomatoes (passata), although it’s possible to find cans with tomatoes that have been crushed, small cut, diced, diced with herbs, left whole, stewed, or preserved without added salt.

So I’ve made my own tomato sauce recipe with added vegetables. I’ve measured everything out by weight, which should mean that this recipe will come out more or less the same no matter how big your local vegetables grow. I’ve left out the leeks and the celery, as well as peeled the eggplant and the zucchini, which should correct the colour of the sauce. Last but not least, I run my sauce through a blender after it is all cooked so that it is all the same consistency, which is perfect for sneaking veggies into the diets of picky eaters (a lot of people have problems with textures more than they do with flavours).


Tomato sauce simmering on the stove.

Healthy Veggie Tomato Sauce
Yields about 5Kg (11lbs), or about 22 cups sauce

In deep, heavy-bottomed skillet or frying pan, preheat:
4 Tbsp olive oil
Add to pan:
225g yellow onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, chopped fine
Cook on medium heat until onions have started to turn clear. Do not brown.
Add to the pan:
550g cremini mushrooms, sliced
400g zucchini*, peeled & chopped
400g globe eggplant, peeled & chopped
400g orange carrots, peeled & diced
Cover and cook on medium heat until carrots are softened. Stir often to avoid browning.
While this mixture is cooking, prepare tomatoes. If using cherry tomatoes, cut each one in half. If using larger tomatoes, remove the piths and quarter them.
Pour cooked mixture into a deep pot, such as a stock pot. A heavy-bottomed pot is best, but if one isn’t available, any large pot will do. If a thinner-bottomed pot is used, it will have to be stirred more frequently to prevent sticking & scorching.
To the pot, add:
1L low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2.75Kg fresh tomatoes, cut as per above instructions
2 cans tomato paste, 156mL each
8 Tbsp fresh oregano (or 2 Tbsp dried oregano)
3 tsp salt
1 tsp ground bay leaves
2 Tbsp sugar
Slowly bring mixture up to a boil, then turn the burner down until it is just simmering. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Sauce is cooked once all of the ingredients are soft, the last of which should be the tomato skins.
Turn off the heat under the pot. Carefully ladle the hot sauce mixture into a blender to at most 3/4 full, put the lid on the blender, put a towel over the lid, and blend until smooth. Be careful, as the mixture is very hot! Pour the blended sauce into a large bowl or pot, then repeat until all of the sauce is blended.
At this point the sauce may be completely done, or it may be a little bit too liquid, depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes used. If the sauce is watery, return it to the deep pot and simmer gently until it has reached the preferred consistency, stirring often.

*Yellow zucchini is preferred to contribute to the colour of the sauce, but green zucchini will taste the same if that is what’s available.


Tomato sauce with ground beef over penne.

Healthy veggie tomato sauce can be served as-is over pasta; spaghetti is most commonly used, although in our house we prefer penne. If you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth when you make the sauce, this results in a vegetarian/vegan dish. However, I like to freeze it in dinner-sized portions, then thaw it while I fry up and drain a 500g package of lean ground beef, turkey, meatballs, or sausage. I stir the sauce in with the meat and simmer together while the pasta boils for an easy weeknight dinner. This tomato sauce is also great for making homemade lasagna, pizza, or Sloppy Joes.


Tomato sauce with ground beef over penne, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Late Summer Garden

Right now my garden is bursting at the seams — okay, well, all except the peas, which have died back somewhat. My potatoes are starting to pop out of the ground (they don’t grow down very well because of the hard clay under the garden), and I have to keep re-covering them with soil so they are not damaged by the sun. Before I planted the garden this year, I doubled the amount of soil, which seems to have delayed potatoes popping up, but didn’t keep it from happening.

Even tied back, my tomato plants have passed “threatening to take over” and are now simply the rulers of the garden. When I look out the window behind them, it’s like looking through a jungle to the back yard. If you can see me hiding back there, you’ll get an idea of how tall the plants have grown — and they’d be taller if I had taller stakes to support them, but their fruit is weighing them down.

Today’s harvest included a whole lot of cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, and hot peppers — along with handfuls of herbs to use in cooking tonight.

Beginning to Harvest the Garden

I spent some time in the garden yesterday, weeding and harvesting a little bit, but mostly tying up my tomato plants, which have escaped the raised bed and are trying to take over the lawn. Mosquitoes love the shade under these plants, so every time I go out there, I end up with a new handful of bites at the very least. Even so, it was totally worth it because I was happy to discover lots of fruits and veggies that were either growing large and healthy, or that were already ripe and ready for harvesting.

The pears are doing well, although they’re still hard as rocks and not nearly ready to harvest. My research indicates that they should be ready to be picked from August to October in this climate — and mine seem likely to be ripe later in the season.

The tomatoes on the possibly-beefsteak tomato plant (the one that was supposed to be a cherry tomato plant) aren’t ripe yet, but the fruits have almost doubled in size. I have a feeling that spaghetti sauce may be in their future.

My sweet bell peppers are growing well and look like they’ll end up being pretty sizable. This variety is supposed to yield a black (really very dark purple) pepper, so these obviously aren’t ready yet. Well, that’s if they were labeled correctly; I don’t really trust the labels 100% any more.

My pea vines are still yielding nicely, although with being at the cottage off and on, I ended up letting a bunch of pods dry out on the vine. Oops. That’s good for seed saving, I guess, but not what I was trying to do.

Unlike their sweet cousins, my hot peppers are starting to ripen beautifully. The red banana peppers and the green jalapeno peppers are destined for hot sauce once I’ve picked them all, so I wash and freeze the early-ripening ones until I can use them. Freezing peppers makes them mushy upon thawing, but that’s not really an issue when they’re just going to be blended smooth in a sauce anyway.

Last but not least, my cherry tomato plants have started ripening! I believe that what’s coming up at the moment are Pink Ladies, Sweet Millions, and generic yellow cherry tomatoes. I have a personal fondness for the yellow ones, but the Pink Ladies have come up really sweet this year, and I just can’t stop snacking on them. My husband, too, is a huge fan of cherry tomatoes of all varieties, and will go through a large bowl of them when vegging in the evening after the kids have finally been put to bed.

Roadside Stands

I’ll admit it, I have a hard time passing roadside fruit and veggie stands without stopping in to see what is on offer.


Signs advertising tomatoes & strawberries on Route 366 in Québec, just north of Gatineau Park.


Brisebois Fruits & Légumes (Brisebois Fruits & Vegetables), at the intersection of Route 366/Route Principale E & Chemin Brisebois (Sainte-Cécile-de-Masham, Québec).

Recently I visited Brisebois Fruits & Vegetables, which is located just north of Gatineau Park. It’s easy spotted from the main road due to its generous signage, orange roof, and, oh right, the two smaller-than-life moose statues out front. The stand carries local produce like strawberries, carrots, and garlic scapes, as well as imports like lemons and oranges.


Multicoloured carrots purchased at Brisebois Fruits & Légumes.

I purchased multicoloured carrots at this stand, as well as a pint of blueberries and a half-pint of cherry tomatoes. The carrots are the only things that made it home; my kids can eat their own body-weight in berries when so inclined, I’m sure.


Sign for Orleans Fruit Farm

I stop by the Orleans Fruit Farm on a regular basis, as well as occasionally visiting their U-pick fields for strawberries, raspberries, and apples when they are in season.


Orleans Fruit Farm fruit and veggie stand at 1399 St Joseph Blvd, Orléans, Ontario

This farm stand does a brisk business, located as they are off a main road leading from downtown to a decent-sized suburb. It’s a simple thing for residents to pop in and pick up something for dinner on their way home from work. The stand is always staffed with helpful, friendly employees and, as a bonus, they take debit as well as cash.


Under the Orleans Fruit Farm red-striped tent.


Summer squash.

These odd-shaped summer squash were grouped with the zucchini, and a sign proclaimed that they taste just like regular zucchini, but were shaped better for stuffing. I had to buy them since I’ve tried anything that looks like this.


Steamed multicoloured carrots and sauteed summer squash with curry powder.

And what do you know, the sign was totally right. They’re just differently-shaped zucchini. I want to try stuffing them at some point, though. The yellow one, especially, would plate fantastically.

Overgrown?

My garden isn’t just growing, it may be overgrowing. When I plant my garden in the spring, it always looks like I’m leaving too much space between the rows. Then I go out into the garden on days like today, and there’s very little room to walk. I have to gently push plants aside to get at the tomatoes and potatoes.


My garden, with me for scale

I have to be careful with the tomato plants nearest the wall of the house, as they can get caught in the track when I open and close the window to let in fresh air. On the other hand, the plants that are supposed to be there are actually crowding out potential weeds, for the most part. The only exceptions are near the celery and the onions, which I planted late and hence aren’t growing as fast.

And the tomatoes are growing quite large, considering they’re supposed to be cherry tomatoes! I wonder if some of them were cross-pollinated, or probably mis-labelled at the garden center. It has happened before. Or maybe it’s my awesome gardening skills producing abnormally healthy and large fruit? If only.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Well, my garden definitely doesn’t grow with silver bells, and cockle shells, and pretty maids all in a row. I mean, outside of the historical explanations, the plants in the “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” nursery rhyme were all flowers, and I’m just not that big into flowers. I love to look at a beautiful flower garden, no question, but when it comes to growing my own plants, I prefer something that I can eat. Although last year I did grow a bunch of nasturtiums, which serve both purposes; both the flowers and the leaves are edible, and the leaves make a lovely, slightly-peppery pesto.

This year I skipped the nasturtiums, as well as my usual crop of pumpkins. I usually plant my pumpkins along the fence line, but this year we were supposed to get a new fence installed, and I knew that the installation would kill the delicate vines. Now the installation has been delayed until September (much to my great frustration), but I’m still kind of glad that I didn’t plant any gourds this year. It has been an incredibly wet summer so far (I’ve only had to water the garden once), and with all that water comes earwigs, which will eat all the fruit from a squash vine before it has the chance to grow more than a few centimeters in diameter.

Banana peppers were a late addition to my garden, but they are growing well despite the cooler summer we’re experiencing. Any hot peppers that I grow this summer will be incorporated into hot sauce come fall, which I can and then save to give out at Christmas.

My parsley, even more so than my other herbs, is trying to take over the world — which is why I plant herbs in pots instead of directly in my garden. After my successful attempt at tabbouleh the other day, I have a feeling that this plant will become our main source for this dish this season. I think I’d prefer a higher ratio of parsley to bulgur next time, so the plant will be used up even faster, unless its growth rate increases. Herbs generally fare better with pruning, so it could happen.

My Swiss chard is coming up nicely. I’ve never actually grown this plant before, but I was inspired by my friend’s garden last year. The rainbow colours of the stems are gorgeous. I made pickles of the stems last year, and much to my dismay the colour leached out of the stems into the pickling liquid over time, leaving the stems a pale, flaccid cream colour. What a shame. Maybe this year I will freeze the excess stems instead to saute or steam at a later date.

My tomatoes are coming up nicely, although I think that they, along with the rest of my garden, could use a few more sunny days. Some of the plants are almost as tall as me, although their yield so far seems lower than last year.

Oh, and we’ve already had our first harvest! It was just a small handful of peas, but they were quite delicious according to my children, who were very happy with their haul. The girls really like being able to wander into the yard and pick food directly from the plant. My response when they ask me to do so is invariably yes (so long as the food is ready for harvesting). I really have no complaints if they want to eat more fruits and veggies.