Aug 31, 2011

Recipe of the week: You say tomato, I say salsa

Last Saturday, I had Mr. Official swing by a nearby produce stand and I picked up a half-bushel box of canning tomatoes, plus onions and jalapenos and bell peppers.

I then stood for a long couple of hours and skinned and diced two gallons of maters, along with a the other ingredients to make my one-and-only batch of salsa for the year - 16 pints plus a half-pint left over.

I've had this recipe for several years now, and I've adapted it slightly to suit our tastes. If you like a chunky, "picante" (spicy, you choose the heat) salsa, this is a good one to fill in for store-bought salsa. It isn't expensive to make (not counting jars and lids, my guesstimate is around $1 per pint), but it is time-consuming to make. Give yourself at least 4-5 hours, more if skinning and seeding tomatoes isn't second-nature to you (there's a bit of a learning curve involved.) And be prepared for a major kitchen wipedown when you're done, because those tomato seeds and the juice will squirt everywhere. It is a necessary step to avoid watery salsa, though.  

Chunky Salsa Recipe

2 gallons (40-50 large) ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and diced
10-12 peppers (you can use any combination of bell, banana, habanero, or jalapeno), diced (remove seeds from bells; seeding any other peppers is optional; seeds typically equal more heat)
4-6 onions, diced
4 stalks celery, diced (optional - I left it out this year, but it is good)
6 cloves garlic, minced or 6 tablespoons prepared garlic; more if you like a stronger garlic flavor)
3/4 cup lemon or lime juice
3/4 cup plain white vinegar
2 tablespoons canning or Kosher salt
24 ounces tomato paste
diced fresh cilantro (at least a handful)

If you have paste or Roma tomatoes, you can use up to 1/3 of them for the tomatoes in this recipe. For other tomatoes, be sure to squeeze each skinned and cored tomato to remove as much of the juice and seeds as you can. Having a large deep bowl or bucket for the skins and seeds makes cleanup easier (you definitely don't want tomato skins in your garbage disposal, and you probably don't want all those seeds down there, either.)

Dice the vegetables and place all ingredients except cilantro in a large non-reactive stockpot or kettle (note the size of mine in the photo to the left - this is not a job for a 3-quart saucepan or 6-quart pot.)  Bring to a boil and let boil for 5-10 minutes; skim off any scum or foam. Add cilantro and remove from heat. Stir through.

Have at least 16* hot, sterilized pint jars ready (I run mine through the sanitizing cycle of my dishwasher, then dip each in a large kettle of boiling water just before using.)  Have clean hot lids (flats and rings the same size as your jar openings) ready, along with jar tongs, a ladle, funnel** and a roll of paper towels for wiping the rims.

Using the ladle and funnel, fill each jar, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rim with a clean moist paper towel, place flat lid on top and screw down the ring firmly.

When all the salsa is in jars, place jars in canning kettle or other large kettle (you can place a tea towel on the bottom of a large stockpot to cushion the bottom of the jars if you don't have a kettle or you want to augment yours - you can get 7 jars in a typical kettle.

Cover by an inch of water and bring to a boil. When it begins to boil, set timer for 30 minutes and turn down slightly but maintain a rolling boil. Remove jars from kettle after processing and place on a clean dry towel in a draft-free locations. Make sure they are completely cool and all the lids have sucked down before storing. (You will hear them "pop" as they vacuum seal themselves during the gradual cooling process.)

Use within one year.  Makes 14-16 pints

*If possible, always have a few extra clean, sterilized jars and lids on hand. Sometimes the recipe will make a little more because the tomatoes were a little meatier or plumper than other years. If you are buying new jars just for this recipe, and don't have any extras, be sure to have a plastic container at the ready for any leftovers that won't fit in a jar.

Promptly refrigerate and use within a week or so - it won't last as long as commercial salsa.  That holds true for when you open a jar later on:  always try to use an open jar within a few days.  You can throw the extra in some creamy refried bean dip or use it instead of diced tomatoes in your next batch of spaghetti.  It'll add a little unexpected zip!

**If you're buying a canning funnel for the first time, choose the one for the smaller jars.  It will work with the wide-mouth jars, too.  If you buy the bigger size, it won't slide in jars with the smaller opening.  Having both is nice, but you really only need the smaller one.

Happy canning!