Tomato Aspic with Benefits
July 19, 2015
Here's why I had to make a tomato aspic last month. In the winter we make our oven-dried tomatoes not from lovely fresh plum tomatoes (available locally only two months of the year) but from canned San Marzanos imported from Italy (or so the label says).*
But once I've removed all the tomatoes from the giant can, I'm left with six cups of the tomato sauce in which the tomatoes were packed. I freeze it in two-cup containers, but I need to have a plan for using it some time, because those boxes of sauce begin to pile up in the freezer as we feast on batch after batch of the dried tomatoes. A good time to make aspic is early summer, when the weather calls for a cool dish--and when there are no fresh tomatoes yet.
So that's the background for my aspic story. Tomato sauce (or juice) is the main ingredient. Add lemon juice or vinegar for sure, and then the optionals: herbs, chopped bell pepper and cucumber, or chopped hard-boiled egg if you want. And if you have any of those tiny Nova Scotia shrimp in the freezer, add some of them (thawed) to the aspic. Do the gelatin thing before you add all those goodies. Pour it into little molds and chill until set. Turn it out onto plates and eat it. You won't be sorry you made tomato aspic.
Here are more specific instructions:
To serve two people generously as a one-dish summer lunch, start with two cups of tomato sauce/juice. If all you have is sauce, which is fairly thick, add half a cup of water. A different approach might use half and half juice and sauce, for a total of 2 1/2 cups.
First, the gelatin procedure: To set this amount of liquid you will need one envelope of powdered gelatin (which is 2 1/4 teaspoons). Put a quarter cup of cool water in a small dish and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top of the water. Let it stand while you prepare the tomato part.
Heat the sauce/juice with some thinly sliced green onion, torn basil leaves, finely diced celery, a pinch of salt and a pinch of suga, plus a couple tablespoons of fresh lemon juice or nice vinegar. Once it is heated you can strain it or leave it slightly crunchy with onion and celery (I did not strain mine).
Scrape the gelatin, which has swollen with the water and is kind of translucent and semi-solid, into the tomato mixture. Heat and stir briefly until all the gelatin has dissolved. You shouldn't be able to see any of it floating around glassily in your tomato mixture. Pour the aspic into a bowl (a thin metal one is good because it transmits cold better than, say a glass bowl). Now cool the mixture, either in the refrigerator or by nestling the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water.
When it has cooled and semi-set--to the consistency of egg white--stir in any additional goodies you want: diced cucumber, tiny shrimp (thawed and drained if frozen), chopped hard-boiled egg, extra chopped herbs such as parsley, chives, or more basil. Resist the temptation to overload the aspic; you do want areas of smooth, jelled tomato juice/sauce as you eat. At this point you can leave the aspic in its working bowl, to be spooned out when it is firm. Or you can pour it into a mold, or several small molds, to be turned out prettily onto a plate for serving. (Rub the inside of the mold with olive oil if you plan to turn the aspic out.)
Now refrigerate the aspic in its bowl/mold/dish until it is firm. Overnight is good.
To serve, run a knife around the edge of the aspic and turn it upside down onto the serving plate. You might have to shake it a bit, holding firmly to the plate as well as the mold.
I like eating it plain, but if you like the look or the taste of sauces, try chopping herbs and/or capers into mayonnaise, sour cream, or whole milk plain yogurt. Or top the aspic with a spoonful of pesto.
* My husband buys the San Marzano tomatoes at Costco in institutional-sized cans, and the tomatoes from one can will exactly fit, halved, on my largest cookie sheet. I add rosemary, basil, sea salt, pepper, and olive oil and bake them at 300 degrees for three hours. They are delicious just straight or as a pasta sauce or a bruschetta topping or mixed with feta cheese and yogurt to make a dip.