Bring on Fall – Please (Or What To Do When Summer Just Won’t Quit)
If you had approached me back in April to ask me what I was most excited about for the upcoming CSA season I undoubtedly, without blinking or even thinking twice would have rambled on and on about just how oh so very excited I was about ripe, sweet, summer tomatoes. I mean, I was literally itching to get my hands on a big fat heirloom tomato and have myself a super sweet super flavorful and texturally delightful feast. But ladies and gentlemen, it is September now, during the course of the last three months I have sliced, diced, sauteed, stewed, minced and have even made jam of these gosh darn fruit and am finally fed – the heck – up. That’s right ladies and gents, I am fed up, done, and just totally over tomatoes.
Readers, the sad part of this story is that I just know that in about three months, when the tomato glut has finally subsided, and heirlooms are no where to be found, the cravings will begin again. I am just so sure that in the deepest darkest depths of winter, when the ground is covered in frost and I am sitting at home, bundled up like an Eskimo, with my little booties and bathrobe on, sipping piping hot tea, I will be dreaming about tomatoes. Now I know what you are thinking, isn’t this blog about SEASONAL cooking? Why, oh why are we talking about your wintertime tomato yearnings? Well readers, we are talking about winter today because, when the season end approaches, and I have finally had my fill of tomatoes, I do my darndest to preserve that ripe tomato spark to warm my heart with the sweet flavor of summer during the dark and cold of winter.
In my mind, the best way to carry the sweet summer tomato flavor through to the winter is to roast tomatoes and freeze them. Here at Penchant for Produce we employ a fairly simple method for roasting tomatoes that can be adapted to suit a variety of different dishes. You can truly roast any kind of tomatoes you like, but I find that this works best with the smaller cherry and grape tomatoes. Even tomatoes that taste slightly too acidic can be mellowed and sweetened with long slow oven roasting. To roast a batch wash your tomatoes and sit them aside to dry. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and line a jelly roll pan (or really any pan with sides) with parchment, foil, or a silpat mat (this will make for easy clean up later.) Cut the tomatoes in half and place them in a single layer, cut side up, on the prepared pans. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle LIGHTLY with oil (at least for now, we don’t want to confit the poor tomatoes.) Place them in the oven and roast them for an hour to an hour and a half. Et, Voila! you have roasted tomatoes.
If this formula sounds a tad too boring, do not fret, there are literally hundreds of ways to mix your own flavor into this simple recipe. Frequently, we add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary to the tomatoes before the pans hit the oven. You could experiment with sprinkling on a pinch or so of Mexican spices like cumin and chile power, or mix some harissa with the olive oil for a North African flair. To freeze them, cool the tomatoes to room temperature, wrap the entire pan in plastic wrap, and place it on a flat plane in the freezer until the tomatoes are just frozen. Once frozen place them in a single layer in a freezer bag (clearly labeled, you know, with like, important stuff, e.g. the contents and date, and any spice embellishments that were added prior to roasting, written on it, preferably in permanent marker) and then seal the bag almost all the way, using a straw to suck the air out of the bag before quickly sealing it shut.
There are oh so many ways to put these little gems to use. They make a superb topping for pizza, and can quickly be sauteed (thawed) with olive oil and garlic to make a fresh tomato “sauce” for pasta. If you carefully thaw the tomatoes on paper towels (cut side up) you can plunk them down on a salad or mix them in with either hot or cold couscous to make a nice grain side dish. You can puree them for a sauce, or drizzle with olive oil and a little extra balsamic and serve them on pan fried bread for bruschetta. The possibilities are endless. However you choose to use them, these are a real delight and allow you to enjoy the taste of summer for months to come.