Smashing idea for tomatoes: Roast them

September 02, 1998|By Rob Kasper

UNTIL THIS summer I have had little to say about little tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes had been, in my view, high on nuisance and low on substance.

They have a sweet flavor, almost like tomato candy. But taking the candy from the tomato plants had been tricky. The little tomatoes hid behind the leaves of the plant. Even when I spotted them and got my hands around them, the cherry tomatoes tended to roll through my fingers and disappear onto the dark, leafy maze of the garden floor. That didn't happen with Big Boys or Beefsteaks - tomatoes that were the size of softballs.

Typically, I planted one token cherry tomato plant in my garden. But this summer, four cherry tomato plants sprang up, producing abundant supplies of small red, pink and yellow tomatoes. This was not planned. Gardens happen.

As the little tomatoes rolled in, I grew fond of them. I went through the gardener's typical cycle of emotions toward a crop. First I was filled with pride. Eventually I was just filled with cherry tomatoes.

I began thinking of a variety of ways to use the seemingly endless supply of cherry tomatoes. Last week, as I was emptying another bucket-load onto a kitchen counter, I remembered the "roast-them" remedy. I have used this method in prior years to deal with an excess of larger, plum tomatoes.

I pulled off the cherry tomatoes' stems, then placed the whole tomatoes - about the size of a quarter - on a baking sheet. I painted the tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkled them with a little salt and put them in the oven for a long summer's nap.

These tomatoes cooked slowly. I put them in a 200-degree oven and kept them there until they dried out.

(Depending on the thickness of the tomatoes and how dry I want the final product, this can take from 3 to 4 hours.

If I want them soft in the center, I'll cook them about 3 hours; but if I want them as crisp as potato chips, I cook them closer to 4 hours. You can shorten the roasting time by slicing each cherry tomato in half.)

I ended up with a sheet of dried tomatoes that had intense, nutty flavor. You can put these dried-out tomatoes on pasta or in sandwiches. I ate them as a snack food.

One drawback to this remedy is that it requires that you hang around the house for several hours. A benefit is that your house smells good.

The other day as I was roasting cherry tomatoes, one of our teen-age sons thundered into the house and sniffed. "It smells like pizza in here," he said. That, I figured, was the ultimate compliment a cook could get from a teen-ager.

Over the past few days I have roasted a lot of tomatoes. Most of them have been cherry tomatoes, but I have also roasted a few big tomatoes. I cut them into quarters, and then gave the slices the olive-oil and slow-cook treatment.

The house has smelled wonderful lately, the mound of cherry tomatoes has diminished, and I have eaten dozens of nutty, dried-out tomatoes.

Now I am ready to go down another road. This week I am trying salads made with cherry tomatoes that are covered with herb-flavored oils.

I am going to start with olive oil that has been infused with basil leaves. Then I might switch to oil flavored with mint leaves, then oregano leaves.

I have all three of these herbs growing in my garden. The herbs have plenty of leaves. But I have even more cherry tomatoes.

Cherry Tomato Salad With Basil Oil

Serves 6

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 sprigs fresh basil leaves (mint, rosemary, dill or oregano can also be used), plus extra for garnish

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes

coarse salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a saucepan, warm olive oil over medium heat, then immediately remove pan from heat.

With the back of a chef's knife, tap the stems of the basil sprigs to bruise them and release their oil. Chop leaves coarsely.

Add basil to the warm oil and let sit for 1 hour.

Strain the oil into a small bowl and discard the basil. Add the red wine vinegar and whisk together. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, place the cherry tomatoes in a serving bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Garnish with extra basil leaves.

- From "You Say Tomato" by Joanne Weir (Broadway Books, 1998)

Pub Date: 9/02/98

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