It’s silly, I know, because the world is not watching, but if I go more than a week without posting anything new here, I start to get performance anxiety, thinking that after making my readers wait so long for something new, I can’t post something as simple/mundane/lame as that. I want to scramble to find something more exciting to present, or to wallow in my lack of creativity. But I’m out of time for the former, and in my seasoned age I’ve lost the self-indulgence for the latter. Sometimes we just have to roll with the imperfect.
Appropriately enough, roasted tomatoes are a creation that celebrates the imperfect. A little time in the oven takes even dull, dry tomatoes and transforms them into sweet, concentrated bursts of tomato flavor – delectable piled on toasted country bread or as a killer ingredient to liven up any dish.
This summer, my mom’s garden was as usual overrun with tomatoes. Here in California a technique for growing deeply-flavored tomatoes is dry farming, in which tomato plants are encouraged to develop deep roots and are not watered after the plants develop fruit. Unintentionally, my mom’s technique this year was the opposite.
Since my dad died last year, my mom has been without her garden help. My dad worked steadily in the yard, trimming trees, watering plants, pulling weeds. As an effort by my mom to reduce her maintenance load in the garden, she had sprinklers put in. But while she was getting the settings adjusted, she was disappointed to find her bloated, overwatered tomatoes had lost their intense homegrown flavor.
Fortunately, it’s easy to rescue tomatoes. Roasting in the oven concentrates their flavor, leaving them sweeter and far more tomatoey than they began. Good olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic are tomatoes’ natural companions, and a sprinkle of herbs is always a welcome addition.
Tomatoes can be roasted at a wide range of temperatures and times. Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, recommends 450 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Paris-based blogger David Lebovitz uses 325 degrees for two hours. And Deb at Smitten Kitchen likes a slow roast at 225 degrees for three hours.
Roasting tomatoes is more of a technique than a recipe: you really can’t go wrong. Deb uses cherry tomatoes, Ina likes plum. Ina removes the seeds, David leaves not just the seeds in but the stems on. Deb throws her garlic in whole and unpeeled, while David slices his and Ina minces hers. Ina adds sugar and balsamic vinegar; others don’t.
I made a big batch on two baking trays to use up the tomatoes that had piled up while we were gone this August. My mom and I were going to freeze some of the roasted tomatoes for a taste of summer sunshine when the weather gets cold. But they were so good we ate them all. Happily there are more imperfect tomatoes piling up.
Some of my mom’s rainbow of tomatoes.
I think slices generally work better than chunks – more surface area for liquid to get out and seasonings to get in.
Depending on the quantity and juiciness of your tomatoes, roasting takes a while. This time I cooked mine for an hour at 350 degrees F with something else I had going in the oven, then turned it down to 250 degrees F for another couple of hours to evaporate the liquid without getting the tomatoes charred.
in the end, my tomatoes were very soft and juicy, with a sweet, concentrated tomato flavor. A less-crowded pan and/or longer cooking time can get them drier and chewier if you prefer. Roasted tomatoes make a fantastic ingredient to all kinds of dishes – omelets, pastas, salads, soups, sandwiches – but they can also be the star of a simple meal of bread and cheese.
Roasted tomatoes can even appeal to the raw-tomato hater. My daughter would never eat the fresh version:
But she loves the roasted version. And according to Jo Robinson’s intriguing new book, Eating on the Wild Side, cooked tomatoes are a richer source of nutrients than fresh. But for me, I’m sold on the richer flavor.
Don’t cry over bad tomatoes – just roast them. Roasting in the oven concentrates their flavor, leaving them sweeter and far more tomatoey than they began.
- Fresh tomatoes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh pepper
- Herbs (thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary)
- Wash and slice tomatoes. Put in single layer of rimmed baking sheet. Space the tomatoes out if you like a drier, chewier roasted tomato. A crowded pan will make for softer, more broken-down tomatoes.
- Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper, add garlic (whole, sliced or minced – if slicing/mincing, you don’t need a lot, maybe a clove per pound). Add herbs if using.
- Choose a hot, quick roast (450 degrees F for 25-30 minutes); a medium roast (350 degrees F for two hours) or a long, low roast (225 degrees F for three hours). Generally the longer they cook, the more flavor they develop.
- Roasted tomatoes will keep well for several days in the refrigerator or much longer in the freezer. If you have a bumper crop of tomatoes, roasting and freezing is a fine way to save some of summer’s bounty for cold months.
- Optional: add a sprinkle of sugar or a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar before roasting.
Here’s the link to a printable version.