Too Many Tomatoes?

Late summer heat in the Willamette Valley has brought on a glut of huge, sweet, juicy tomatoes along with the eternal question, “What do you do with so many tomatoes?”Too many tomatoes (2)

Fresh salsa is my initial response, but this time my thoughts shifted to another favorite, marinara sauce. Such a bright, easy tomato sauce to make, it only requires a quick simmer to bring flavors together for pasta or a stellar pizza sauce.

With that in mind, I decided to begin with another challenge: grill-roasting tomatoes.  I like the idea of oven roasting tomatoes, but in the summer heat, taking the process outdoors makes far more sense.  Beyond the extra sweetness grilling imparts, I’m thinking the addition of a few apple wood chips would introduce a subtle smokiness.

I wasn’t quite sure how this idea would float but I proceeded, placing halved tomatoes lightly coated with olive oil cut side down on a moderately hot grill over a bed of hot coals laced with soaked wood chips.  These juicy beauties did not fall apart, instead the tomato’s sugar served to sear and caramelize their cut surface.  Once nicely browned, they were turned right side up, allowing the skin to ultimately crack and begin to separate.  When the centers were bubbly, they were removed to cool.

There were other unanticipated advantages worth noting. The sometimes tedious peeling of tomato skins was hassle-free; they literally curled off by themselves.  Just as simple, removing bitter seeds was only a matter of giving each half a light squeeze along with a quick turn of a teaspoon into obvious seed pockets.

I didn’t bother to mill or breakdown the tomatoes into a smooth sauce or puree, I liked the limited bits of soft chunkiness.  I was also surprised at the incredibly small return after tomato surgery.  From an initial 8 or 9 large tomatoes, I was rewarded with a mere 3-4 cups of pulp. There was also a fair amount of tomato liquid included which I opted to leave alone.

When it came time to whip up the marinara sauce I was in and out of the kitchen in under 30 minutes.  marinara sauce (360x640)Since it’s only a matter of sautéing a bit of onion and garlic in olive oil, it’s the reduction of liquid that takes the most time, but it is loaded with flavor, and well worth it.

Marinara Sauce with Smoky Grilled Tomatoes

3 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8-10 large ripe tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
6-8 leaves fresh basil, torn


  1. Brush halved tomatoes lightly with olive oil and set cut side down on medium hot grill. Grill for 5 -10 minutes, until seared, and turn.  Continue to cook until skins begin to crack and surface is bubbly; let cool.  Remove skins, cores, and seeds, squeezing with hand to breakdown.
  2. Heat remaining olive oil in saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion, sauté 2-3 minutes, until it begins to soften; add the garlic and oregano and sauté 1-2 minutes, until aromatic.  Add the red pepper flakes and stir to soften.
  3. Stir in the tomato pulp, tomato puree, salt, and pepper and bring to a simmer.  Partially cover and allow to reduce until thick, 15 to 20 minutes.  Adjust seasoning; remove from heat and add the fresh basil.  Let cool or serve.  Makes about 2 cups.

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