A few years back, inspired by some reading about eating locally and seasonally, I announced to Rich that we would not be having tomatoes on a regular basis. Tomatoes, I explained (OK, really declared), would only be eaten in the summer time, mostly in August, but the eating and serving of could begin in mid-July and last through the end of September. Perhaps some of October, if we were lucky.
And that’s how it’s been, more or less, for a good while now. I think once or twice a plastic box of grape tomatoes snuck their way onto the counter and were used in a hearts of palm and avocado salad. But really, the first tomatoes I purchased this year were when Cousin David came the second week of July. They ended up on a platter of Caprese salad for the neighborhood potluck.
Two weeks back I received some tomatoes in the CSA. They weren’t quite ripe, light pink and still a little hard to the touch. I set them on the counter on Thursday night and walked away. By Sunday, I could tell by looking at them that they’d be ready to eat by Wednesday, nearly a whole week after they first hit the kitchen. Torture! I then spent the next three days thinking about my midweek lunch, which would be the tomato. No cheese, no bread, just a little pesto I whipped up Tuesday night with some basil I rescued from the fridge. I also found some leftover roasted garlic hummus in there, so I ended up alternating bites: ripe tomato with pesto, then the garlicky hummus. I was quite a happy camper.
For Thursday’s lunch, I ate the next tomato, this time with a perfectly ripe avocado that I peeled and sliced next to it. (And yes, I do see the irony of insisting on a local, seasonal tomato while eating a trucked-in avocado next to it.) I keep bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar in my desk at work, so I drizzled a little of each on the two, and ate my lunch. There may have been some moaning; I’ve been told I have a problem making inappropriate noises when eating certain summer produce. There may have been an incident earlier this summer with a peach.
This past week brought a new batch of tomatoes to the house: Juliet, a type of heirloom grape tomato.
They look like a miniature plum tomato, and when I get near a plum tomato, I have the sudden urge to slow-roast it. Now, I know turning on the oven in August sounds questionable, but the nights do get cooler, and really, the oven is only at 250 degrees the entire time. The end result is more sweet than savory. The tomato proves itself to be a terrific fruit: It’s tomato candy, really.
I came across this recipe in Saveur magazine in 2007. It was a feature on the 25th anniversary edition of The Silver Palate Cook Book, a collection of recipes developed by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins in their little gourmet shop in New York City. I clipped the recipe and roasted a batch that very same week. And then I went and did something I don’t do very often: I went and bought the cookbook. No trial period with the library, just straight to Amazon. It turned out to be a great buy. Sometimes you can just tell from one simple recipe.
As I mentioned, today I used the Juliets, but I usually do this with plum. I’ve read that people eat these on top of pasta, as a side to chicken and fish, or maybe on top of some beans. I usually eat them off the baking sheet. Once they made it all the way onto an antipasto plate, next to some olives, hard cheese, and roasted red peppers — once. Every other time, they’ve gone directly into my mouth. Today I tried to exercise restraint. I used some in a grilled cheese sandwich (fontina) and tossed on top of some greens and roasted radishes, with a sweet balsamic dressing drizzled on top.
Don’t let the number of tomatoes used in this recipe deter you: You can make it with fewer, just reduce the amount of oil and sugar for the whole tray. I don’t always have the fresh herbs on hand to garnish. Not that I’ve let that stop me.
Oven Roasted Plum Tomatoes – The Silver Palate Cookbook
½ cup best quality olive oil
12 to 18 ripe plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise and seeded
2 Tablespoons sugar
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Small whole Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves, or small fresh mint leaves or finely slivered basil, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 250F
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and oil it lightly. Arrange the tomatoes on it a single layer, cut side up. Drizzle lightly with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the sugar and pepper.
- Bake the tomatoes until they are juicy yet wrinkled a bit, 3 hours.
- Carefully transfer the tomatoes to a platter. Just before serving, sprinkle them salt and garnish with the herb leaves.