Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes in Olive Oil - Packing up Summer
The tomato harvest has begun in earnest. And these aren’t the timid, tentatively flavored tomatoes of early July. The tomatoes I’m seeing at the market now are juicy, fragrant, and bursting out of their skins. What’s interesting about how beset we can feel during tomato season is that, even 100 years ago, tomatoes were barely consumed in this country. They were grown ornamentally in North American gardens and known as “love apples” but were widely held, as members of the Nightshade family, to be poisonous - much as the eggplant was in Europe.
The tomato was brought to Europe from its native Central and South America in the first half of the 16th Century, and it seems to have been the Italians who first grew the fruit for food. There they called it “poma Peruviana” or “poma d’oro” meaning “Peruvian apple” or “golden apple” – early varieties may have been yellow - but “poma d’oro” seems to have stuck. It was only once Italy, Spain, and then later France and Britain had fallen for the tomato, that North Americans were willing to give it a try.
Several of you have asked me for some recipes that make the most of the tomato harvest, and I hope the Pappa al Pomodoro from last week helped a bit. But here’s a method that’s useful for setting aside something special for after the deluge ends – usually sometime in October around here.
Oven-roasted tomatoes are rich and sweet without taking on the cloying intensity of sun dried tomatoes – which I feel have been horribly overused in the States. These lovelies from Eckerton Hill Farm include Green Zebras, Brandywines, and White Wonders, but you can make this with any standard varieties too. Just choose whatever’s ripest and freshest, and, if you roast them gently and patiently, you’ll find they’ll last under a blanket of olive oil for at least 3 – 4 months in the fridge.
What to do with your oven-roasted tomatoes? They make fantastic bruschetta – alone or mixed gently with some fresh herbs, crumbled feta, anchovy fillets, or chopped black olives. They’re also a great addition to pasta – below I’ve roasted a little eggplant in olive oil, sizzled some garlic and fresh thyme, and tossed the whole thing with some of the smaller roasted tomatoes and fettucine. You can purée them into soups, melt them into long-simmered sauces, and use them as a savory-sweet pairing for meat and fish – along the same lines as the tomatoes I roasted with pork chops in July. However you use them, and I’d love to hear what you come up with, this is the best way I know to set aside the bounty of a good tomato harvest for the colder days ahead.
Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes in Olive Oil
Makes about 1 pint (varies according to water content in your tomatoes)
1 – 2 very clean pint jars
5 lbs fresh, ripe tomatoes, rinsed well and dried
extra virgin olive oil (you’ll need lots here)
1 bunch fresh thyme, rinsed well and dried
small handful fresh whole basil leaves, rinsed well and dried
Preheat the oven to 500 F
Sterilize your jar by putting it in the oven for at least 30 minutes. Remove with tongs, and be careful not to touch the jar. As always, remember that hot glass looks the same as cool glass!
Reduce the oven temperature to 250 F
Cover a sheet pan with foil. Slice any large or especially firm tomatoes in half across the equator (so all the seed chambers are exposed). Arrange the tomatoes on the sheet pan and drizzle with lots of olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and then pinch over half of the thyme. Roast on the bottom rack of the oven for 4 – 6 hours, checking occasionally and turning once or twice if necessary, until much of the water in the tomatoes has baked off. Don’t let them get dry or leathery though – the flavor will change too much. The finished tomatoes will seem like a bit of a mess, but treat them gently and they'll hold together.
Allow the tomatoes to cool. Layer them in the jar with the fresh basil leaves and some new sprigs of thyme. Pour over fresh extra virgin olive oil and try to remove any air bubbles. The oil should cover the tomatoes by at least an inch – this seal is what lets them last so long. Store in the fridge.
Roasted Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta
Serves 4 as an antipasto
12 roasted tomatoes
fresh basil, thyme, and/or parsley, chopped
4 anchovy fillets preserved in oil, minced
3 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup black olives, pitted and chopped
4 thick slices of good bread
1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, gently toss the tomatoes with the fresh herbs, minced anchovies, crumbled feta, or chopped olives. Grill or toast the bread. While still hot, rub with the cut garlic, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Arrange 3 tomatoes on each toast and season generously with black pepper. Serve immediately.
Roasted Tomato & Eggplant Fettucine with Thyme
Serves 4 - 6
2 thin, long Italian eggplants
extra virgin olive oil
1 lb dry fettucine
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cup roasted tomatoes packed in olive oil
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
5 stems fresh thyme, leaves chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 F
Trim the ends and then cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Cut the halves into inch-thick slices, toss with olive oil and salt immediately, and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes, turn the eggplant over, and bake for another 15 minutes until golden brown.
In a large pot, boil some well-salted water. Toss in the fettucine and boil, stirring occasionally, until par-cooked (about half-done). Drain and reserve. (Note: My fettucine took about 3 minutes, but cooking time always varies according to brand).
Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add a generous glug of olive oil and then the sliced garlic. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Sauté, stirring often for 1 minute.
Add the crushed red pepper and then toss in the fettucine, eggplant, roasted tomatoes, and fresh thyme leaves. Add some more olive oil and sauté, stirring gently but often, for about 2 minutes, or until the fettucine is al dente.
Check the seasoning with more salt and red pepper and serve immediately.