COOK: The Best Ever Roasted Tomatoes
End of the Garden Season Melancholy
By late summer/early autumn, I start to question my decision-making abilities:
Do I really like to grow food?
Do I really need a garden to keep me happy?
Why does the autumn garden clean-up seem like so much more work than the spring start-up?
Why did I think that twenty tomato plants was a grand idea back in March when I was sowing their seeds?
And it’s in mid-September that I am reminded of my neighbor’s comment when I built my huge mammal-proofed vegetable garden fortress in my pasture nine years ago: “You do know there is a grocery store in town?”
All I can say is this one word: tomatoes. They ripen late here at 2200 ft elevation and this year, especially late, because of several plant-killing frosts in late spring that forced me to beg for tomato plants from generous gardening friends (thank you, Becky & Blayney).
Tomatoes enjoy star status in the produce world and in our culture. I think there are more quotes about homegrown tomatoes than any other fruit.
John Denver recorded a song about tomatoes (originally written and recorded by Guy Clark). I dare you to not dance and smile during this happy song!
How about a little dark humor on tomatoes?
But my favorite tomato song is performed deliciously by Pink Martini:
Alas, Mother Nature Rules
The tomato starts that I thought had died from multiple late spring frosts actually survived and thrived. Alas, (a word that is so appropriate for a gardener), I have an abundance of tomatoes (actually it’s more of a shitload - not sure how to measure that but it sends a more clearer message, doesn’t it?).
But beloved Mother Nature had another lesson in the waiting when she dropped the temps to 30 degrees on September 20th (which I want to point out is 25 days BEFORE my Zone 6 average first frost date of Oct. 15 - but hey who’s counting), killing most of the foliage of my prima donna collection: tomato, pumpkin, pepper and indigo plants. Even the weather forecasters missed this one.
The good news is some tomatoes (those that are picked at the right stage) ripen after they are picked, provided you keep them in a warmer-than-outside environment. Though my tomato bed is now filled with compostable not-even-close-to-ripe green tomatoes, my kitchen island is covered with boxes of tomatoes in various stages of ripeness. I already have a gallon jar of dried tomatoes and am waiting on ten more cups of diced tomatoes to ripen to make another four quarts of frozen spaghetti sauce. Meanwhile, the smaller tomatoes are perfect for roasting and then freezing.
More Herbs = More Flavor
I was inspired to re-invent this traditional method of preservation because most of the recipes I viewed sounded bland. This recipe is all about end-of-the-season abundance: tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and herbs. I freeze quart-sized bags of these roasted tomatoes and use in pasta sauces, chilis, stews, soups and pizza toppings. The aroma is amazing while in the oven, and I love the idea of pulling these out on a cold winter’s day to make a pot of tomato-y comfort food.
RECIPE: Best Ever Roasted Tomatoes
Lots of ripe similar-sized tomatoes
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
1-2 onions, chopped (or use green onions, ¼ inch sliced)
Several sweet or hot peppers, sliced thinly
Small handful of chopped fresh basil & oregano
Salt and pepper
Splash of balsamic vinegar (optional)
1) Set oven to 275°. Line a baking pan with parchment paper (yes, this is necessary).
2) Peel garlic cloves, smash with the side of chef’s knife blade and then dice into small pieces. Mincing the garlic and letting it sit for 15 minutes increases its medicinal properties.
3) Chop one or two onions. I grew an entire seed packet of green onions and have been using them in everything. My sweet Walla-Wallas are harvested and I have tossed in some of these, too.
4) Thinly slice small sweet and/or hot peppers, if desired.
5) Mince fresh basil and oregano. You can also use dried.
6) Try to use tomatoes that are similar in size or cut tomatoes to a uniform size. I quartered and removed the seedy pulp. You can leave the pulp if you want, but I find the seeds to be bitter.
7) Lay the quartered tomatoes skin-side down parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with chopped garlic, onions, peppers and herbs. Splash a bit of balsamic vinegar on the tomatoes and pour olive oil onto the tomatoes (don’t drench; just a bit on each tomato piece). Sprinkle salt and pepper on top.
Bake in a 275° for 2-3 hours, depending on the size and thickness of the tomatoes. You will need to check them frequently after an hour. They can easily burn and become black crunchy tomatoes - for which I have yet to find a use. Except the compost pile.
When done, cool completely on the sheet and then transfer to a plastic bag or container, label and freeze.
It’s tomato season so just repeat.
If you still have an abundance of tomatoes then make batch of my Retro Cream of Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.