Smoked Tomatoes on the Grill: Sweet Summer Umami
End of summer brings an embarrassment of riches, as the farmer’s market and garden offer heaps of ripe produce. Melons, corn, zucchini, greens, and of course, tomatoes.
These tomatoes are the best we will have all year, brimming with juicy vine-ripened flavors. Real tomato taste hits your tastebuds like a bracing slap, stirring up memories of real tomatoes past. It’s so good, it almost explains why we eat winter tomatoes. Our craving for the real thing is demanding enough to push us to accept a pale stand-in, just for a hint of its greatness.
So now is the time to binge on tomatoes, put up tomatoes, and make tomatoes into easy to freeze concentrates and sauces. I have a favorite dish, one I got from John Ash, that I think actually does justice to a great crop of tomatoes. It’s a smoked tomato sauce.
Yes, you can use your grill to infuse those amazing tomatoes with smokiness, which amps up their umami. Umami, you may remember, is a sensation of “meatiness” that is triggered in the mouth by certain chemicals in foods. Amino acids and some related compounds are abundant in meat, but veg-heads can also find them in mushrooms, fermented protein foods like miso and tamari, nutritional yeast, wine, and ripe tomatoes. Oh, and smoke adds umami.
So, when we take a wonderful ripe tomato and smoke it, we play with that umami magic and create a sauce with lots of hearty “meaty” feel in your mouth. It’s also bound to conjure up the feeling of summer when you take it out of the freezer this winter.
Or, you can just make a fab pasta and grilled veggie dish with it now, as I do in the recipe below.
The recipe makes two cups of sauce, but you can double or triple it, puree, and then freeze the cooled puree.
Grill Smoked Tomato Sauce, and Grilled Veggie Pasta
This is John Ash’s recipe, adapted to make a pasta dish. If you want, you can simmer the sauce longer, to make a thicker concentrate to freeze.
2 pounds ripe tomato
4 large garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or butter
salt and pepper
**aluminum cake pan
mesquite or other wood chips
1 large zucchini, cut in planks
2 red Fresno chiles or jalapenos, halved and seeded
1/2 bunch broccoli
1/2 pound cavatappi, or whole wheat spirals
fresh basil leaves for garnish
1. For a gas grill, prepare a pan to place on the briquettes in the bottom of the grill, either purchase a smoker pan or use an old metal baking pan you don’t mind ruining. Soak 2 cups of wood chips for 2 hours. Before cooking, preheat grill for 30 minutes and put chips in pan in the bottom of the grill, put grate in and cover until smoke starts to waft out. For a charcoal grill, soak chips and build a fire on one side of the grill. when coals are white, toss in chips and proceed. Have a spray bottle of water to slow the burning of the chips if they flame.
2. Core tomatoes and stuff each with a whole garlic clove. Put in pan with the cored end up and fit all the tomatoes in to hold each other upright. Put pan in smoking grill over the cool side- in a gas grill turn off the side opposite the chips and put the tomatoes there. The tomatoes are just smoking, and need no heat underneath. Cover grill and smoke for 1 to 1 and a half hours, checking every 10 minutes and shaking the tomatoes a bit to see if they are sticking. If the chips burn too quickly spray with water.
3. When tomatoes are very soft, remove to cool. Puree the tomatoes and garlic with smoked paprika. Strain into a small saucepan and simmer to thicken a bit, and if you are freezing the sauce, cool and freeze at this point.
To serve, rewarm the sauce then whisk in olive oil or butter. Season to taste with a few drops of balsamic, if desired, and salt and pepper. MAKES 2 CUPS, enough for two batches of pasta.
4. After the tomatoes are smoked, toss the veggies with olive oil and grill until marked and soft. Cool and chop if necessary. Cook pasta, toss with half of the tomato sauce, garnish with basil.