Drowning in cherry tomatoes? Let 'em burn

September 02, 2001|By Rob Kasper

Some things taste better burned. One such item is a cherry tomato. I made this discovery by mistake. I left a bunch of cherry tomatoes in the oven too long.

I was oven-drying tomatoes, slicing them in half, dabbing them with a little olive oil and sea salt and letting them sit on a baking sheet in a 250 degree oven for hours. How many hours? That is where I ran into trouble.

The recipe I was following came from Joanne Weir's You Say Tomato (Broadway Books, 1998). It suggested cooking them for five to six hours. But this amount of time was needed to dry fatter tomatoes, the plump, oblong Roma tomatoes. I was dealing, for the most part, with much smaller cherry tomatoes, ones about as big as a quarter.

After I put them in the oven and checked on them after two hours, they were toast. But they were tasty toast.

Some were so well done they had to be scraped off the baking sheet. They looked like bits of scorched Doritos. But they tasted sweet, almost like candy. The scrapings had a better flavor than the fatter, properly cooked bits of tomato that were also on the baking sheet.

I placed both kinds of cherry tomatoes -- the burned and the unburned -- in a bowl on the kitchen counter. I couldn't keep my hands off the singed ones. Soon, all "mistakes" were eaten.

The properly cooked ones weren't bad, either. I could envision several uses for correctly dried tomatoes, in addition to snack food. Namely you toss them on pasta, or in a salad, or mix them with olive oil and herbs and serve them as a side dish.

Charring cherry tomatoes was yet another episode in the cherry tomato syndrome, a pattern of behavior familiar to anyone who grows the tiny tomatoes. Every year you tell yourself you are going to cut back on cherry tomatoes. Then, out of weakness, you put one plant in the ground, then another. Then a couple of volunteer plants spring up, and before you can say, "Stop me before I make tomato sauce!" you are out in the late-summer heat, bending over plants, chasing down another batch of cherry tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes are elusive. The ripest, most promising-looking ones seem to slip through your fingers and disappear onto the garden floor. This disappearing act probably accounts for the arrival of volunteer plants the following summer.

Like visiting relatives, you are, at first, happy to see them. You greet their arrival with joy. You enjoy their company at the kitchen table, where they are a pleasant summer snack. But soon you tire of them. And like relatives, you find yourself searching for things to do with them.

That is why I started oven-drying cherry tomatoes; it was in self-defense. I had so many of them, I was overwhelmed. Since I had grown them, I felt I had to use them. It is called gardener's guilt.

Oven-drying cherry tomatoes is a way of coping with gardener's guilt. The process swallows a lot of tomatoes, transforming nagging excess into plates of delicious morsels. It also makes the house smell wonderful.

So to those of you who are dealing with a glut of cherry tomatoes, I tell you, put them in the oven and let 'em burn.

Oven-Dried, burned Cherry Tomatoes

Yield 1 cup

1 pound cherry tomatoes

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

Remove tomato stems then rinse tomatoes in water and let dry. Slice tomatoes in half. Place on metal baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine olive oil and salt. Brush sliced tomatoes with mixture. Bake in 250-degree oven for 1 to 2 hours. Remove from oven after one hour if you want plump tomatoes, 2 hours if you want them crisp.

Serve as snack or freeze in tightly sealed bags.

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