We’ve got a problem. Nothing catastrophic or even remotely unpleasant actually. Just the same dilemma we face this time every year. As far as problems go, this one’s nothing to complain about. Cherry tomatoes—oodles of them. Our plants are loaded with ripe fruit. Their branches bend and droop, hunched over like weary workers bearing the evidence of a season’s hard labor. We harvest each morning—bowls and baskets crowd our counters, bite-sized red and orange orbs spill over the sides. Sweet, juicy sungolds. Plus the grape tomatoes we added this summer—like miniature Romas, firm and dense.
Tomatoes are added to everything now—salad, sandwich, pasta, soup. Often we simply pop them into our open mouths as we pick, without embellishment—just ever so slightly warmed by the morning sun. Most days we delight in our problem. Who doesn’t adore a perfectly ripe summer tomato? It’s just that by September we’re running out of ideas. Our enthusiasm has waned slightly since the first fruit colored on the vine. What was once the highlight of our world now feels close to a burden, like Christmas decorations left up too long. Who would have thought it possible? We need a fresh plan.
Time for slow roasting. Plenty have been roasted already—it’s a favorite treatment—but slow-roasting, that’s something altogether different. Roasting concentrates and amplifies tomato flavor—the alchemy creating a sticky caramelized goodness to spread and savor. Slow-roasting does all that, and yields texture that’s more substantial than faster, high temperature roasting—soft, chewy, intense. And irresistible. As close to candy as any self-respecting, nutrition-minded vegetable deserves to get.
This roasting takes time, hence the “slow”. Anywhere from two to six hours, depending on the size of the tomato. That’s why it’s particularly perfect for diminutive cherries. The tiniest are done in a mere 90 minutes—time enough to boil pasta, stir a sauce, shuck corn AND sit down for a cup of tea.
Turn the oven on, but just barely. 250 degrees. The heat feels comfy, not the roaring flame of a roasting oven. This is hardly worthy of a hot mitt. When you leave your fresh-picked treasures in for a few hours, barely warm is just right. Or they’ll burn.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (optional, but means there’s less to clean at the end) and lightly oil the paper with olive oil. Cut your tomatoes in half, along with a few cloves of lightly smashed garlic. Line the tomatoes shoulder to shoulder across the pan, interspersing the garlic here and there. Lay a few sprigs of fresh thyme on top if you have it in the garden. Sprinkle salt over the entire pan plus a teaspoon or two of sugar. Pop the sheets into the oven. Set the timer, then take a peek after an hour. You’ll notice the fruit starting to deepen in color and shrink in size. For the smallest cherries, check again in another half hour. What you’re looking for is a tomato that’s shrunk by about one third. It’s skin is shriveled, and the fruit no longer exudes juice, yet isn’t dried out. Taste one, that’s the best test. The flesh is intensely flavored—thick and gooey. Imagine the freshest tomato paste ever, nestled inside a tomato skin. Remove those that are done from the baking sheet, and continue cooking any that aren’t.
You’ll be tempted to gobble the chewy bites straight off the pan—eager, after enduring their alluring aroma for hours. Better yet, sit down and savor with a glass of wine. Layer them on toasted bread spread with tangy goat cheese and chopped fresh basil. Add a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Slow-roasted tomatoes keep in the fridge for a week or so. Add them to all manner of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chop into cream cheese with green onions on a bagel, stir into scrambled eggs with sautéed greens. Add to a grilled cheese sandwich or quesadilla. Toss into bean salad (canned cannellini beans, minced garlic, kalamata olives, fresh basil or arugula, lemon zest, olive oil and balsamic vinegar). Layer in lasagna or old-fashioned mac and cheese. Fold into spaghetti, with creamy sun-dried tomato pesto, basil and the last crunchy kernels of sweet corn (pictured above).
Recipes for the Week:
Substitute green onions for yellow or red onions in a recipe. They’re milder, and pleasant in raw preparations. If you cook them, ease up on the heat. Green onions tolerate less than their stronger brethren. They are the perfect embellishment for lightly scrambled eggs. Cook the chopped onions in butter for a few minutes, then add the eggs and cook over low heat, stirring frequently. Serve on toast with sliced cherry tomatoes (or slow-roasted ones) on top. Stir crumbled goat cheese into the eggs before serving if you like.
Smash a few raspberries in a bowl and add lemon or vanilla yogurt.
Rather than the usual mashed guacamole, try a chunky version. Cube ripe avocado and add to a bowl along with quartered cherry tomatoes and diced green onion. Season with salt and fresh lime juice to taste, and a bit of cilantro if you have it. Scoop with chips or top a taco. Try this version, with berries and mango. Or substitute a fruit of your choosing.
Cut cubes of watermelon and feta cheese. Skewer a cube or two of each with a toothpick. Add a leaf of mint between the cubes, if you have some. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The addition of cucumber is nice too. Makes an easy appetizer.