Thursday, October 4, 2012

Last Gasp of Summer: Easy Oven Roasted Tomatoes

 I know that summer is over.  There are flashes of red on the trees outside my window, an additional pile of blankets on my bed.  My window of opportunity to run late in the day is growing narrower.

And yet, there are still tomatoes.  Tomatoes at the farmers' market and tomatoes in my garden.  Not in the copious quantities of August, certainly, but as September has edged into October, summer into fall, there are still tomatoes.  I have made plain tomato sauce and roasted tomato sauce, this tomato soup and that tomato soup.  I've made several batches of luscious eggplant and summer vegetable gratin  (Quick, there's still time, but not for much longer!) And still, there are tomatoes.

Every summer, or at least most summers, I make an attempt at oven roasting tomatoes.  I've tried the kind that you leave in a very low oven for hours and hours.  I've tried the kind that you start in a hot oven and then turn the heat down as they cook, supposedly to replicate the Italian version in which tomatoes were roasted at the end of the day in a cooling bread oven.  (For more on the story, see The Splendid Table.)  I had fleeting successes but no recipe I tried became my go-to oven roasted tomato recipe.  (And given that I'm very loyal to my favorite recipes, as indicated by my list of tomato-based things I make repeatedly each summer, that's saying something.)  

But now, my flirtation with oven roasted tomato recipes may be ending.  I may have found The One.

In late August, I came home from a few days on the Cape with my brother, sister-in-law and nieces to find a heavy Amazon box waiting for me.  In it were the first six volumes of Canal House Cooking, a birthday present from my brother.  We'd had a long conversation about Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones and Butter, which I had just listened to on my iPod and he had read (on his iPad), and which we both thought was terrific.  (More on that in another post.)  I mentioned that I had looked up Gabrielle's sister Melissa, formerly of Saveur, and discovered that she was one of the women behind Canal House Cooking, which is a cross between a magazine and a set of small, lovely cookbooks.  My brother, to his credit, remembered that key detail, and with my September birthday fast approaching, he acted.  It was and remains a great present.  A subscription buys you 3 seasonal cookbooks in a year, beautifully designed, written and photographed.

Being a logical Virgo, I started with Volume 1, Summer, in a lovely shade of tomato red, and I went straight to the chapter called "Too Many Tomatoes."  And just for the hell of it, I decided to try their version of oven roasted tomatoes, which is less a strict recipe and more guidelines.  (You can roast them in a hotter oven for less time or a cooler oven for longer, for one thing, and there are no amounts set for anything.  "Make as many as you want to make," it instructs.)  I made, in the end, two cookie sheets worth.

I liked it that the recipe specifically called for plum tomatoes (of which I had many) and that it was light on the oil (the words "drizzle" and "a little bit"" indicated that). My tomatoes went in plump and meaty:

And came out hot and chewy:

In the past, I've put oven-dried tomatoes in the freezer for the winter.  Occasionally they get eaten, but more often, they sit in their little foil packets until the next summer, and then I toss them.  This year, though, will be different, because this year, I obediently followed the Canal House ladies' instructions and put them in a zip-loc bag very neatly, with a few basil leaves for flavor.  (Please ignore my dirty cutting board beneath my nice packet of tomatoes--I had been chopping tomatoes on it, after all, and I did wash it post-photo.)  (I should remember to do that before I take a photo next time, I realize.)

That night, pre-dinner, I toasted some country bread from the Hungry Ghost Bakery and spread it with some fresh goat cheese from Hillman Farms.  (Their goat cheese has been one of my favorite discoveries of the summer.)   I chopped up some of the newly oven-roasted tomatoes and put them on top.  There was no time to photograph them because we ate them too quickly, and then two more pieces almost immediately thereafter.  The tomatoes were sweet and savory both, not too oily, a perfect complement to the tang of the goat cheese.  They were also a perfect way to say farewell to summer and greet the fall with cheer, knowing that among the many tomato-based products in the freezer, there are several bags of these, a hit of summer waiting once winter has truly arrived.

Canal House Cooking Oven Roasted Tomatoes.  

 The recipe really is more a suggestion than an actual recipe, but the keys are to use plum tomatoes, to spread them cut-side up on a cookie sheet and to drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  They recommend using a 325 oven for an hour and a half, or until the tomatoes have "shriveled up a bit and their juices have concentrated and caramelized somewhat."  I was cooking something else at the time so my first batch ended up in a 350 oven instead, and it was fine.  Use your judgement for how shriveled and concentrated you'd like them to be.  Mine cooked at the slightly warmer oven for about the time recommended. 

You can drizzle them with a bit more olive oil when they're out.  To store, pack in a bag or container with a bit more olive oil and herbs for flavor--a bay or basil leaf or sprig of rosemary,  They will keep in the fridge for a week or so and in the freezer for up to a year.

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