We’re officially into double digits of quarantine weeks, and tomatoes have been a faithful companion in my kitchen now more than ever. I use them in everything from Nigerian stew to Italian sugo, Gigi Hadid's creamy tomato sauce using tomato paste, salsa, and focaccia gardens, studded with sweet, halved heirloom tomatoes. Week in, week out, we've gone through fresh, canned, pureed, paste.
Often—for at least a few days, sometimes even a couple of weeks—we focus on one tomato sauce. When I say "we," I mean my three teenage children, who find the best recipes on TikTok, Instagram, and from watching Anime—and then co-opt me occasionally into cooking it for them.
It was in “phase sugo" (a smooth, creamy tomato sauce made with chunky ingredients blitzed down at the end) that the thought of preserving tomato skins came to me. I soon found that the powder or flakes are easy to make, and are a great addition to many things—from lining the rims of cocktail glasses to folding into softened butter for speckled compound butter; sprinkling it over yogurt, salads, soups, and much more. With this powder, I love the look of my classic Canadian Caesar, rim shimmering red. Adding some to vinaigrettes and sprinkling over flatbreads are firm favorites.
I make my sugo with whole peeled plum tomatoes from a can. I've tried with skin-on fresh tomatoes, and though the flavor ended up right, the texture was not—cream interspersed with tomato shards and coiled skins. One day, I only had fresh roma tomatoes, and the children wanted “pasta sauce," as they call sugo. So I made quick work of removing the skins, and had a huge pile of them when I was done prepping a batch. I decided that there was no need to waste them. If I wasn’t already invested in making the most of herbs, ends and leavings, this—the quarantine would have done it.
My 21st-floor apartment has stunning views of sunrise and sunset but no balcony garden or compost bin. So, in the same vein as bread ends and Parmesan crumbs (rinds cooked, blended, squeezed, and baked), I seasoned the tomato skins, put them on a baking sheet and into the oven on a low temperature, and let them be till they were dry and crisp. Then I blitzed them until they became a fine powder with a sweet-bitter-tangy flair.
For tomato powder, I find that romas and plum tomatoes give me the best result—there’s more flesh remaining on the skins when I remove them, so the resulting powder is ultimately more tomatoey than that of thin whispers of skin from beefsteaks.
A word on peeling tomatoes: After some trial and error, I've found the method that I use consistently. I cut an X into the bottom of fresh tomatoes, dunk them in boiling water, and leave them for a couple of minutes, in which time the skins curl away from the flesh. I drain the tomatoes, run cold water over them if they’re too hot, and then begin the work of skinning. To do this, I simply pinch the head of the tomatoes, and the skin comes right off, like a cloak, leaving juicy orbs of tomato flesh.
When the skins are freed from the flesh, I pat them dry with a towel, then dehydrate them either in the microwave or oven (the microwave saves a lot of time, but low-and-slow in the oven makes for the best flavor). After the skins are dry and crispy, I blitz them in a spice mill or mortar and pestle, then mix them with any manner of seasonings and spices: red pepper flakes, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne, cumin powder or seeds, flaky salt.
And umpteen batches of tomato powder later, we’re out of “phase sugo” and right into “phase Gigi’s sauce.” Just. Like. That.
- Fresh roma or plum tomatoes, as many or as few as you like
1. Peel your tomatoes
- Boil about a quart of water in a kettle or pot.
- Meanwhile, score your tomatoes by cutting an "X" on the bottom of each one.
- Place the scored tomatoes in a large heat-proof mixing bowl and pour enough boiled water over them to cover.
- Let the tomatoes sit for a minute or two till the skin begins to curl away from from the flesh.
- Drain off the water, let the tomatoes cool for a minute (rinse with cold water to speed the process along), then peel.
- Pat the tomato skins dry with a towel and reserve. At this stage, you can use the tomato flesh for sauces, soups, and more, or freeze them for later.
2. Dehydrate the skins
- Place paper towels on a microwave-safe plate.
- Spread out the tomato skins in one layer.
- Microwave on high for an initial 3 minute period, then check and continue in 30 second increments, till the skins are dry and papery.
- Heat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat and lay the skins on top in a single layer.
- Bake till they are completely dry, between 1 1/2 and 3 hours.
3. Make tomato powder
- Powder: Grind the dehydrated skins in a spice mill or coffee grinder until they're in a fine powder.
- Flakes: Crumble the dehydrated skins in your hands, or coarsely grind in a mortar and pestle, until they reach your desired texture.
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