Don’t let those green tomatoes waste away on the vines. Instead, try this unique way of preserving late season green tomatoes – a recipe that comes from the Calabrian side of my family.
This is one of those things you’re either gonna love or you’re gonna hate. There’s no middle ground. Those who like these (like my relatives), really, really like these and they’re always hoping to finagle a jar to take home when they visit. They’re perfect as an accompaniment to sandwiches or just with a slice of crusty bread. They’re chewy and redolent of fennel and garlic, so make sure you eat these in the company of others who are also eating them or you’ll be sitting alone quickly.
This recipe is something my Northern Italian mom learned to make from her Southern Italian mother-in-law. My husband figured out how to make these after my mother died, and he’s taken up the mantle in continuing the tradition.
Outside of my extended family, I’ve never seen anything like these jarred tomatoes. They’re not pickled, since there’s no vinegar involved. You start with average size green tomatoes – really hard, really green tomatoes. No red allowed, not even a teensy spot of it.
Let this sit for at least two weeks, maybe longer, or until the tomatoes are flattened. The water will spill over out the side as the heavy crock jug forces its weight on the tomatoes. The idea is that the salt will draw the water out of the tomatoes and they will flatten considerably. You’ll be amazed at how much water comes out.
After a couple of weeks, you’re ready for the final step. Drain off the liquid in the crock and shake off the garlic and fennel from the tomatoes. Layer the tomatoes in clean mason jars, adding about a teaspoonful of fennel seeds and about a teaspoonful more of salt per mason jar.
Update: I always added slices of fresh garlic at this point, but a reader cautioned against it, saying it could lead to botulism. Thankfully, that has never happened to me, but in the interest of prevention, I would advise you now to skip the garlic. Here’s what the Michigan State University extension service has to say on the subject:
“Homemade garlic in oil can cause botulism if not handled correctly. Unrefrigerated garlic-in-oil mixes can foster the growth of clostridium botulinum bacteria, which produces poisons that do not affect the taste or smell of the oil. Spores of this bacteria are commonly found in soil and can be on produce such as garlic. It is virtually impossible to eliminate all traces of miniscule soil particles on garlic heads. These botulinum spores found in soil are harmless when there is oxygen present. But when spore-containing garlic is bottled and covered with oil, an oxygen-free environment is created that promotes the germination of the spores and produces a toxin that can occur at 50 degrees Fahrenheit or above.”
If you like things spicy, add slices of jalapeno pepper or other types of hot peppers. Pour a good quality olive oil into the jar, filling it to cover all the tomatoes.
Close the lid tightly and store in the refrigerator. The olive oil will solidify. Before serving, remove from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. DO NOT use a pressurized canning system to seal the lids or you will ruin the consistency and texture of the tomatoes. You’ll wind up with soft, cooked tomatoes.