Stop what you’re doing. Do you see a farm stand? Go there and buy some tomatoes. All of them. Yes, all of them.
Right now, tomatoes are at their peak (i.e. most flavorful and least expensive) and when the cold weather starts to roll in, those bursting tomato plants will quickly fade away. But there is one way to savor the flavor in the dark, cold months ahead—by freezing, you preserve their sweet, aromatic hyper-tomatoness for future meals. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this task: A.) Core some tomatoes, chop them, put them in a zip-top bag or quart container, freeze. B.) Core and chop some tomatoes, cook them slightly (just until the tomato water has cooked out, the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce is slightly thickened.) A pinch of salt can help to break them down. Peel and seed them if you must, but I never do—I like the texture of the peel and the thickening power it provides; and the seeds are encased in that gelatinous center: the literal and figurative heart of a tomato’s flavor.
You can cook the tomatoes longer if you’d like, to save freezer space and concentrate the flavor even more, but 15–20 minutes is more than enough time for the cooked method. Once frozen, your all-purpose red sauce will last at least 6 months—longer even if you don’t devour it first. When the time comes, you can use them in any recipe calling for crushed or canned (and diced, if you went that route) tomatoes: soups, stews, pasta, shakshuka.
One more tip: ask your grocer for the bruised, blistered, or crushed fruit they’ve moved to the back. Since you’re cooking them anyway, their appearance won’t matter, and you might save a few bucks. Just make sure they don’t smell sour, and plan on cooking them that afternoon.
Here’s a collection of some our favorite cold weather tomato recipes. Now you’ve no reason to fear the coming frost; comfort is in the ice chest.
With plenty of cheese and ham, this traditional casserole of stuffed crêpe-like pasta is covered in a rich tomato sauce and baked. Landon Nordeman Marcella Hazan’s devastatingly simple tomato-onion-butter pasta sauce, if full of deep, bright, rich flavors that blend so flawlessly you’d never believe it’s just three ingredients, plus a pinch of sugar and a bit of salt. Todd Coleman In so many green bean casseroles, the beans are cooked well past the point of mushy. In this recipe they keep some snap. Todd Coleman Eggs are cracked and poached directly into this smoky sausage and tomato soup from Portugal. Todd Coleman Inspired by the sweet-salty pleasures of a BLT sandwich, this version of tomato soup starts with smoky bacon and gets better from there. It’s comforting, savory, and goes brilliantly with grilled cheese. Anna Stockwell In Spain, the stopgap to late-night dinners is bar snacks like patatas bravas, crisp potatoes blanketed in mayonnaise and a thick spicy tomato sauce. Ingalls Photography With their delicate tenderness, canned sardines are ideal for this robust Mediterranean stew. Ingalls Photography These tender ravioli are filled with spinach and cheese and topped with a tangy tomato sauce bolstered with mushrooms, zucchini, and squash. Maxime Iattoni Italy’s puttanesca sauce, briny with anchovies, olives, and capers, pairs well with swordfish or any other meaty fish. Todd Coleman Otherwise a classic take on pepperoni pizza, this version uses Thomas Keller’s gluten-free pizza crust mix for a pie that can be universally enjoyed. Yossy Arefi Rolls of cabbage are stuffed with beef, covered in a tangy tomato-based sauce, and oven-braised until tender. Todd Coleman Earthy sweet cauliflower adds body to this comforting pasta baked in a comforting, spicy tomato-cream sauce. Get the recipe for Pasta with Cauliflower in a Spicy Pink Sauce » Tim Mazurek Celery stalks’ stringy fibers, often removed before cooking, here act as a brace to help the vegetable keep its shape through a long simmer. The result is a sweet and luscious side dish. Todd Coleman This tomato sauce tastes just as good when tossed with spaghetti as it does when cooked in dishes like veal parmesan and baked cannelloni. Virginie Blachere A spicy tomato sauce injects bright flavor into these fish balls, a North African Jewish delicacy. Get the recipe for Fish Balls in Tomato Sauce » Todd Coleman No one will miss the meat in this creamy, vegetable-laden lasagne with perfectly al dente noodles. Andre Baranowski Airy semolina dumplings bob in the fragrant, paprika- and caraway-spiced broth of this warming chicken soup, along with tender chunks of carrot, parsnip, and celery. Landon Nordeman Stuffed with beef chuck, chiles, and rich tomato sauce—but never beans!—this hearty chili is thickened with masa harina Laurie Smith This main course, a classic Roman secondo, calls for rolling thin cuts of beef around a mixture of garlic, Pecorino Romano, basil, and prosciutto; braising them until tender; and finishing them in a quick tomato sauce. André Baranowski Meaty crab legs are cooked in their shells in a fragrant tomato-based broth in this robust, flavorful stew. Penny de Los Santos