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We need to talk about tomatoes. And then to simplify life a little, have grilled sausage, onions and peppers in a crusty roll with mozzarella on it for supper (or lunch).
After offering the Basic Salsa recipe a couple weeks ago, I had a thought provoking email from reader Abbie McMillan. One of her comments was that there was “No indication that 1/2 c. vinegar provides adequate security for 10 pints mixed vegetables in a water bath.” This is an important point. I checked in with Nan Cobbey, who shared this recipe with me, and we had a talk about tomatoes, acidity and what to do about it.
Many modern varieties of tomatoes have been bred for sweetness after ripening. That has dropped their normal acidity to levels below what is safe to prevent botulism. I have not given this much thought because for years I have grown heirloom paste tomatoes which are fairly high in acidity, and I save the sweeter ones for slicers in salads, sandwiches and cooked dishes that we eat right away. I use the paste tomatoes for sauce and other concoctions.
Nan grows sweeter tomatoes, and whenever she uses them in canning, she adds a tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar to jack up acidity. If a recipe for something like the salsa calls for vinegar then, I usually figure it is for flavoring but also can serve to acidify the mixture and make it safe for canning even if I use a boiling water bath. So even if I didn’t think of it at the time, the half cup of vinegar in the salsa recipe ought to be sufficient to acidify the mixture, especially in my case because I am also using pretty acidic tomatoes.
Among the tomato varieties that are low in acid are many of the popular sorts: Ace, Beefmaster Hybrid, Big Early Hybrid, Big Girl, Big Set, Burpee VF Hybrid, Cal Ace, Delicious, Fireball, Garden State, Royal Chico and the ever popular San Marzano. I am sure there are others. A little online research is worth the effort. Or you may decide to do as Nan does and merely add lemon juice to each jar to make certain.
I usually only do boiling water bath on pickles, fruits or tomatoes. Rather than pressure can other food, I freeze it. And you could do that, too, even if you are freezing something like the salsa. Most modern canning jars work in a freezer — and you have to leave plenty of headroom (the space between the top of the food and the top of the jar) — because food expands when frozen, especially when it has a lot of liquid in it.
If you haven’t done much canning, or feel a refresher is in order, and wonder when it is better to use a boiling water bath or a pressure canner, there is reliable information at the University of Maine Extension Service website. You might even be interested enough to look into the Master Food Preserver program.
Now, after all that, let’s have a fairly easy supper. Cris Lerose, who stays with this household a few months each year to lend a hand, cooked up an awfully tasty supper the other night inspired by the peppers in our garden. I grow a variety called Carmen — long, slender and delicious green or red. Right now there are both green and reds on the plant, and I brought some inside. Cris used hot Italian and mild sausages, and mixed them to cook together. To make an absolutely yummy sandwich, combine a medium onion, garlic and slivers of pepper all fried together. Then stuff the mixture into crusty sub rolls, top with mozzarella and run it under the broiler to melt the cheese. A whole meal in a roll.
You can adjust this to taste: all mild sausage or all hot and spicy. Sweet peppers or some with a capsicum bite, more garlic or less, a large onion or small. Cris took the sausage out of the casing but you might rather grill the sausage and leave the peppers whole to grill, then chop them up after cooking. You might even prefer to dump this whole tasty mess on top of pasta and eat it with a salad on the side. It’s up to you. It always is.
Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Subs
6 4-inch Italian mild and/or sweet sausages, or bulk sausage about 1 pound
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 green bell pepper, cut into strips
(Or 2-3 long frying peppers cut into strips)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 slices of mozzarella
3 sub rolls
1. Fry the sausages, either left whole or taken from their casings, until they are partly browned and some of the fat has accumulated in the pan.
2. Add the peppers, onions and garlic, and fry with the sausage until the meat is brown and the vegetables are very tender.
3. Spoon the mixture into the sub rolls and top with mozzarella.
4. Broil briefly just until the cheese softens a little. Serve.