Dumpsters and dinner. Have you ever associated these words together?
Perhaps it was the lure of the neo-hippy boys on bicycles, with dirty tans and ripped Carharts (I was still “finding myself” after all). Perhaps it was the notion of sustainability. Whatever my motivation, for one very brief, very, very brief period, I dabbled in dumpster-diving. Was I swan diving into heaps of trash? No. Was I following friends to known dumpster jackpots and reaping the produce rewards? Yes. We would find pounds and pounds of edible produce, all tossed aside because it lacked a certain symmetry or monochromatic hue. These “bastard” fruits and vegetables were deemed unsellable and chucked. We were confronting society’s waste, and seeing that much squandered food really sucked.
One particular scavenge really stands out in my memory. A friend and I were having an urban picnic at an old produce terminal during the off hours. While strolling to find the best view of downtown, we happened upon huge cases of rejected produce. With a vehicle at our disposal, we each rescued enough produce to populate a sizable vegetable stand. At first acquisition, this produce felt too good to be true, but once home, the reality settled, and the quantity was a looming burden.
On one hand, we could afford to experiment culinarily. That pillage led to my first experience roasting peppers. On the other hand, the food seemed endless. Consuming it all required spending money on other ingredients, but how could we even consider wasting the wasted and continue such a vicious cycle? We were supposed to be making the world more sustainable but at what cost to our personal health codes? It was one first-world philosophical dilemma after another, calling into question many of my personal food values. I hate the idea of food waste, but I also place a high premium on my own health and sourcing organic foods. Where do I draw the line?
I recently tweezered, spritzed, primped and prodded chopped vegetables and fruits for a commercial photoshoot (one of my day jobs). To ensure the most beautiful “heroes” for each shot, the company arrived with a stack of boxes taller and wider than many of me. At the end of the shoot, they thanked us for our work and said, “enjoy the vegetables.” Many trips to the car later, I had a backseat and trunk full of produce, and I remembered my ol’ dumpster diving days. Is this the produce I would normally buy for myself? Probably not. Could I waste it? No. I was even more determined this time to use as much of this produce as possible. It was time to be creative, rev the juicer, fire up the oven and take advantage of cooking methods I might not usually employ. Case in point: roasted tomato sauce.
With grocery aisle shelves of sauces galore, buying a jar has an easy appeal, but the flavor and added smoky flavor of this homemade version has its advantages. Maybe you rescue the rejected tomatoes from a produce terminal. Maybe you garden and you make this sauce when you have an abundance of fresh, juicy, summer tomatoes. Maybe you try to salvage what you can from winter’s sad stock, but I hope you strike a balance of nourishing yourself and wasting less. It’s a balance I’m constantly seeking.
Roasted Tomato, Garlic & Herb Sauce
About this Recipe: Roasting is a great way to concentrate flavor and preserve produce. Surely this sauce would benefit from summer’s freshest tomatoes, but at this point in the year, I saw this as a means to draw out the otherwise lacking flavor in winter tomatoes. The resulting sauce is thick, chunky and rich in flavor. It works well as a pizza or pasta sauce, added to a soup, or spread on a sandwich. The recipe is loose, so you can tweak the ingredients and quantities to what you have and to your flavor preferences. My quantities yielded a large jar with some extras.
Roasted Tomato, Garlic & Herb Sauce
Yield: 36-40 oz
15 medium tomatoes, cut in half
15 garlic cloves, (or more depending on your flavor preferences)
Herbs de Provence (or your preferred combination)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil two, large, rimmed baking sheets.
Cut tomatoes in half through the equator (not the stem), and arrange cut side up on the baking sheets. Drizzle with oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with herbs.
Place half a garlic clove on each tomato, cut side down.
Roast in the center of the oven until the tomatoes are concentrated, dark reddish brown (with deep browning around the edges and in places on the pan) and quite collapsed (at least half their original height; they will collapse more as they cool), about 3 hours for very ripe, fleshy tomatoes, about 4 hours for tomatoes that are less ripe or that have a high water content.
Transfer mixture (including juices) to a blender or food processor; pulse several times, until chunky.
Note: You can save some of the tomato halves to be eaten, in their solid state, as a toast topper or sandwich fixing.
Let cool completely; transfer to an airtight, glass container.
Serve on pizza, pasta, bruschetta, or in soups and sandwiches.