Add Flavor. Subtract Skins.

Roasting is a great way to give tomatoes an intense, smoky-fresh flavor to go with meats or over pasta.

But is also a perfect way to get the skins off for canning or salsa.

Getting the skins off by roasting is no more difficult than blanching them in water, and is actually faster, because I can fit so many more on the grill than in the pot. Best of all, this adds flavor instead of diluting it, and subtracts water instead of adding more to an already too-juicy product. Every fall, I make big batches of these and preserve them in several different ways. One batch becomes a year’s worth of salsa; another becomes spaghetti sauce with a delicious smoky overtone that doesn’t need meat to seem extra rich and savory. Some of the tomatoes I just pop into airtight containers along with a tablespoon of olive oil and a basil leaf. These I can pull out of the freezer whenever I want tomatoes all winter. This is the traditional way to prepare chiles and tomatoes for Salsa al Molcajete—salsa ground up in a traditional mortar. (A blender is often used now.) Traditionally, tomatoes and chiles are roasted on a dry griddle (comal) or cast iron pan. The tomatoes or chiles are arranged on the griddle and turned from time to time with tongs until the skin turns brown, black, or yellow-tan. Use medium heat for chiles and low heat for tomatoes. It is OK if the tomatoes crack open. Remove them to a plate. As soon as they can be handled, you can remove the skins with a paper towel, under running water, or just peel off what comes easily with your fingers. For easy, fast roasting, and wonderful flavor, roast the tomatoes or peppers on the barbeque grill. (I usually cook meat on the grill and then fill the grill with tomatoes, tomatillos, or peppers and put on the cover, because I like a very smoky flavor. For a less smoky flavor, leave it open. Turn the peppers or tomatoes till the skin is blistered and loose on all sides. This is much more fun to do outdoors than standing over a stove, and faster, because the grill holds a lot. Many Mexican cooks use the broiler in their oven instead of a grill. Same procedure—turn until all sides are blistered, loose, and browned. Of course, other vegetables are wonderful roasted also. But other vegetables don’t have skin that loosens and comes off when roasted, like tomatoes and peppers do. So when you roast eggplant, summer squash, green beans, asparagus, or whatever, remember to toss the vegetables with some oil (and maybe salt) before grilling.

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