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.
The first thing to do is cut out the top “eye” of the tomato and slice them about 3/8 to 1/2 inch inch thick. The smaller ones you can cut in half, the larger ones into thirds:Then liberally sprinkle regular table salt all over them. Don’t use kosher salt or they’ll be way too salty.
Really, really sprinkle on that salt:Now take a pottery crock and wash it well. Layer in the tomatoes, pieces of garlic and fennel seed. Keep doing this, layer upon layer until you’ve used up all your tomatoes. If you don’t have one of these crocks or are just making a small amount, you can use a ceramic soufflé dish or something similar. We do this outdoors because a lot of water will come spilling over the sides. When you’re all done, you’re going to cover it with large, heavy-duty plastic bags.
Next you want to put something flat over the tomatoes, like a plate. My husband fashioned a piece of Lexan (it even has a thumb indentation for easier removal) to fit the ceramic crock perfectly. Press it down hard over the tomatoes:
Then place something heavy over the plate to weigh down the tomatoes. Don’t use any metal here. Everything should be crockery or ceramic. We use a crockery jug and fill it with water. The more weight, the better.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 fresh slices of garlic, about a teaspoonful of fennel seeds and about a teaspoonful more of salt per mason jar. 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.