A farmer friend of mind recently asked my advice on preserving the luscious tomatoes that are abundance in the last, dazzling burst of summer produce. “Do you can tomatoes?” he asked. “No”, I replied, “I roast them.”
Slow roasting tomatoes in a low oven, evaporates their juices, and renders them dense, creamy and melting, with a concentrated tomato flavor that is at once tart, sweet and savory. They last for a couple of weeks in the fridge and they freeze beautifully. It’s a technique I use year-round, a perfect antidote to the flavorless tomatoes widely available in supermarkets, especially in winter. It miraculously transforms them from insipid and woody into velvety and “intensely tomato” even in the dead of winter.
They can be improvised upon endlessly, from hors d’oeuvre to tarts. In fact, a publisher who learned how to make them suggested I write a slow-roasted tomato cookbook because they had become such an essential, inspiring staple in his own cooking. With about 15 minutes of hands-on work, they’re an easy to make.
Here are some ideas with four recipes (below) to get your started riffing:
As is, Essential Slow Roasted Tomatoes make an appealing side dish, and a lovely hors d’oeuvre that can be picked up with the fingers (I often add a sliver of goat cheese in the center). You could easily improvise on the tomatoes themselves by seasoning them before roasting with minced fresh herbs – basil, thyme, rosemary and savory, to name a few; minced garlic or shallot; or spices, such as fennel seed, cumin, or spice blends such as chile powder or curry. Or flavor them after they are cooked to suit the dish you are making with them.
Tomato Tarts and Pizzas. Because slow roasting the tomatoes evaporates their juices, the tomatoes have a lot of body. You can layer them whole onto rolled-out yeast or pastry dough to make tarts and pizzas, and into layered casseroles – a lasagna or a pasta and cheese gratin, for example.
Roasted Tomato Sauce for Pasta and Pizzas. Chopped or pureed, they add a concentrated hit of bright tomato flavor to recipes, from soups, stews and braises to salads and sandwiches. They make a thick sauce base with a creamy texture which you can jazz up with herbs, olives, lemon zest, and use in all kinds of ways: for pasta and fish sauces, on risotto, and so on. Finely pureed with sautéed onions and chicken broth or half-and-half, they quickly transmute easily into a velvety soup.
Roasted Tomato Jam. Unadorned, pureed slow-roasted tomatoes have a jam-like consistency. Sweetened with honey or brown sugar and flavored with lemon or other fruit zest, ginger and sweet spices such as cinnamon or cloves, they become an unusual jam (after all, they are a fruit.) Or you can veer them in the direction of a savory condiment by blending in sautéed shallot or onion, balsamic vinegar, Moroccan spice mixes with saffron and cinnamon, and so on, that is great with cold meats and on sandwiches and hamburgers. Because tomatoes have an affinity for many flavorings from chile powders to Provencal herbs and cilantro, the potential for improvisation is limitless.
Recipe: Essential Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
To roast tiny cherry, grape and egg tomatoes, follow the method below.
Roast egg or grape tomatoes about 1 hour; cherry tomatoes about 1 1/2 hours.
Makes about 60 roasted tomato halves, 2 1/4 cups mashed or pureed
4 pounds ripe or nearly ripe tomatoes, about 30 plum tomatoes, or 12 to 16 regular tomatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil
About 1 teaspoon sugar
About 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 325’. Slice the plum tomatoes in half lengthwise through the stem; larger tomatoes should be quartered through the stem. In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with the olive oil to coat. Arrange the tomatoes cut-side-up on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper.
Roast the tomatoes 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the tomatoes have lost most of their liquid and are just beginning to brown. They should look like dried apricots and hold their shape when moved. If some tomatoes are done before others, remove them with a spatula while you continue cooking the rest. Cool to room temperature.
To serve the tomatoes as an hors d’oeuvre or size dish, arrange in concentric circles on a round or oval platter. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Store the tomatoes covered in the refrigerator up to 1 week, or up to 3 months in a plastic container in the freezer. Once refrigerated, the tomatoes will soften and lose their chewy exterior though their flavor will be just as good.
Recipe: Slow-roasted Tomato Sauce for Pastas and Pizza
This sauce has a deep caramelized flavor and a creamier texture than regular tomato sauces. It is excellent with all kinds of pastas and polenta, as a pizza sauce or topping for bruschetta. To make a quick Puttanesca Sauce, warm the basic sauce with 1/4 cup pitted black olives, 1 tablespoon drained small capers and 2 teaspoons fresh oregano.
Makes 2 1/4 cups
Essential Slow Roasted Tomatoes, about 2 ¼ cups (see recipe, above)
A few tablespoons chicken broth, pasta cooking water or heavy cream.
Optional flavorings: a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
crisp diced bacon or pancetta
2 sprigs fresh rosemary or thyme for infusing in the warm sauce
¼ cup minced fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley
Chop the slow roasted tomatoes thickly or finely, depending on the texture you want; you can also puree them in a food processor. Transfer to a small heavy saucepan and heat, stirring, over low heat. Thin to the desired consistency with chicken broth, pasta cooking, or heavy cream depending on what you are serving it with. If desired, add any flavorings you wish and simmer a minute or two to mellow the flavors.
Recipe: Tomato Jam
My friend Eleanor Mailloux who owned the Beekeeper Inn in the West Virginia Appalachians served me a sweet tomato jam for breakfast my first morning there 30 years ago. I’ve never forgotten it and applied its subtle flavors to slow-roasted tomatoes.
Makes 1 cup
½ recipe Slow-Roasted Tomatoes (about 1 1/8 cups)
1 ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons wild flower honey
1 tablespoon water
1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 small lemons
Puree the tomatoes in a food processor; scrape the puree into a medium heavy saucepan. Add the cinnamon, curry powder, ginger, honey, water and grated lemon zest.
Carefully cut the rind and bitter white pith off the lemons. With a thin sharp knife, cut the stem and flower ends crosswise off the fruit. Place a lemon with one flat side down on the work surface. Working from top to bottom, carefully cut the skin and white pith in strips off the flesh, so that the flesh is intact. Then, holding the peeled lemon over a bowl, cut along each side of the membrane to release the sections, letting the sections fall into the bowl. Repeat with the remaining lemon. Discard the membrane and pith and chop the flesh coarsely. Stir into the tomato mixture.
Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat until very thick and the flavors have mellowed, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a clean, dry jar. Store, covered in the refrigerator, up to 1 month.
Recipe: Roasted Tomato Freeform Tart
I threw this savory tart together one day to serve at an impromptu vegetarian luncheon, with a green salad and cheese. It also makes a great hors d’oeuvre, sliced into thin wedges. Follow this method with rolled out pizza dough, and top with shredded mozzarella and you’d have a fine pizza.
Makes one 10-inch tart
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes (see recipe, above); you’ll need about 24-30 roasted tomato halves for this recipe.
8 ounces flaky pie pastry, from your favorite recipe, or prepared frozen pie crust taken out of the tin
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour plus more for rolling
Pinch or two of sugar (optional)
3 medium shallots, sliced into thin circles
About 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400’. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a rough circle 13 to 14 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet and sprinkle the flour evenly over it, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border uncovered.
Arrange the roasted tomato halves in concentric circles on top of the flour. If the tomatoes are very tart, sprinkle lightly with sugar. Toss the shallot slices with a teaspoon or two olive oil and a little salt; arrange the shallot rings on top of the tomatoes in a lacey pattern. Fold the edges of the dough over the fruit. Moisten your fingers with water and gently press the pleats so they hold together.
Bake the tart until the crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving, then drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with fresh basil, if desired.