This is the first of many posts on tomatoes. My parents, Dana and I canned 8 bushels worth of sauce this year (around 180 mason jars full over a weekend). One of my all-time favourite foods is a toasted tomato sandwich. It was a tomato that made me cry at Alinea. They are simply one of my perfect foods.
We are getting ready to go to a friends house for New Years – two of us will be doing the cooking. I’m in charge of the supporting cast – cheese, homemade butterscotch canned from the summer, my own raspberry-jalapeno jam and the tomatoes.
My cousin gave my father and I tomatoes for Christmas two years ago. These were special tomatoes – otherworldly, canned in olive oil and tasted like heaven. They had the flavor of the sun, richness of herbs and garlic and yet they just looked like sun dried tomatoes in oil. Cachelle works with some of the best chefs in the city as a wedding planner and one had introduced her to these. We were told they were typically ghastly expensive (these had been gifted to her when the chef heard of our tomato crush). I swore I’d figure out how to make them.
Roasting tomatoes sounds like a simple task. The following recipe takes patience and time. The recipe is based on a combination of sources - those tomatoes, a recipe from A Year In My Kitchen, Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection and my own love of tomatoes. Here’s what you need:
Lots of tomatoes – I prefer to use small cherry or the cherry heirloom types if you can find them these days.
Lovely olive oil – this is an optional step. If you use this, be very selective.
Cut your tomatoes – if using cherry tomatoes, it is fine to have them in halves. Lie on a cookie sheet. One of the advantage (other than taste), is that cherry tomatoes will allow you to have only the skin contact the cookie sheet – this will make sticking unlikely and make the tomatoes easier to lift at the end. The skins contain much of the tomato flavor (with the most coming from the actual vine). If using larger tomatoes, cut them in wedges. Skin down is important as it will make removing them from the tray and cleaning easier later on. Yes I am emphasizing skin down.
Spread salt, sugar and pepper. Use equal parts salt and sugar; pepper is up to you (though most use half to three-quarters). I find that fine sea salt works best as it allows you to create an equal ratio easily.
Finely dice the garlic. Spread it like you would coarse salt. Try to have each piece of tomato contact garlic. This is easiest if you have laid the tomatoes out touching each other.
Chop the Basil – I like most of the pieces to be about half to full size of my tomato tops. Place basil on each piece of tomato. If you miss a few, that’s fine – 80%+ should be your target though. Gently push the basil in to the tomato. You want to have as much contact as possible with the basil and the tomato – this will help infuse the flavor of the basil and of the garlic (since it’s now between the basil and the juicy red flesh).
Turn your oven on as low as possible – our oven only goes to 100 Celsius/ 200 Fahrenheit. They key here is slow. Place cookie sheet inside. I open the stove every 10-15 minutes to let more heat out. It’s not the greenest cooking method which is one of the reasons I cook as many as possible at a single time.
Cook until shrivelled. They will take 3-4 hours, more depending on how often you open the doors. Your garlic may turn green in the process (I believe that is from the acidity of the tomatoes – garlic cloves will typically turn green with an acid as you will learn when pickling them). The longer you cook them the more intense the flavors will become – don’t be afraid if your pile of tomatoes shrivel to a cup or less – you’ll be surprised how far the intense flavor will travel. Remove from oven and let cool.
Remove the basil and garlic – they have done all they can and the flavor has travelled to the tomato. This can be messy and your tomatoes will turn pulpy in your hand. I like to place them in a mason jar as I remove the herb and garlic. Take care to remove as much as you can – a few remnants won’t hurt you but you’ll note that much of the basil has the texture of green tea and the bitterness to go with it.
Avoid placing these in the fridge – if you can eat them same day, all the better. A tomato will lose a large amount of it’s natural sugar when chilled – it’s less apparent after roasting however the cold will still alter the taste.
I like to cover the tomatoes with good olive oil for 12 hours or so. This will infuse the flavor across all tomatoes (including the ones that missed the garlic or herb) and add the earthy tones of olive oil.
Drain well when you are prepared to eat – I use the olive oil in the same dish - roast potatoes with it, put a dash in mashed potatoes along with an equal amount of butter to flavor your mash, add to a salad dressing or use as you wish. I haven’t tried it with bread as it may be a little acidic – but perhaps an idea for a later date. It does make a great addition to your typical mashed potato however (cut with even parts butter). This tomato-oil will round out the rest of your meal and add a unique richness to your meal.