Full tomato season is now, and I’m in the kitchen roasting them.
It’s because I have this yearning to preserve the season. I really don’t know why. Fresh tomatoes are available and flavorful all year around in Israel. So okay, in winter they’re from the hothouse, but they’re good. It’s that now as summer has peaked, they’re abundant and cheap, and I know how juicy and full of that acidic/sweet flavor they are. And they’re vine-grown, and they’re sitting in piles of red splendor in the shuk… I can’t resist.
So I bring bagfuls of tomatoes home and start cooking. Tomato sauce, tomato soup, and roasted tomatoes. All can be frozen. But roasted tomatoes are best eaten within a week of cooking, and better, the same day. Even better, straight from the oven to your mouth, and I can’t resist that either.
I used to think that tomatoes had to be slow-roasted for hours, even overnight. But it’s too hot to keep the oven on for long, and anyway, sometimes I want roasted tomatoes right away. So instead of the laborious process of halving them, scooping out their flesh, and waiting for them to finish cooking, I now do it differently. I slice, season, and pop them in the oven forthwith.
And the results? So good.
The slices lying on the edge of the baking sheet caramelize to crispness, even to slightly charred, and eating them is like picking the crisp skin off a roasted chicken. Only without the guilt.
Thickly sliced, those ruby fruits roast faster, but also taste fresher than those that slow-roasted. Less like tomato leather. Tomato leather’s great, and I’ll probably be making some before the full flush of the season is over. But right now, it’s roasted tomatoes.
Sliced, they’re more versatile than the cup-like tomato halves I used to roast, which are awkward in sandwiches or in an omelet. A slice or three of roasted tomato layers into sandwiches and other dishes with no trouble at all. And they mash up into a savory puree with just a fork and a little energy. My last pot of black beans got a quarter-cupful of mashed roasted tomatoes along with the usual garlic-onion-cumin-coriander, and let me tell you, that was delicious.
I could have mashed up just a little of the tomatoes and spread the puree on toast. Or coarsely chopped a couple of slices and stirred them into an omelet. Or taken the whole panful and toppled them over hot pasta. But what I did was slice some cold roast chicken and layered it with roasted tomatoes and lettuce and a shmear of mustard, on rye.
Roast as many tomatoes, any variety, as will fit onto your baking sheet. Cherry tomatoes are very good roasted, but only need to be halved. They’ll also cook down to little disks, good for salads, but less versatile than larger fruit.
Cut out the triangular plug where the stem was first, then slice them thickly. Keep the juices, you’ll pour them onto the tomatoes before seasoning them. I crumble whole dried za’atar leaves between my palms and shower it lightly over the tomatoes. But oregano, finely chopped rosemary, thyme, or fresh herbs like chives or basil are delicious too. Just please not dried basil, which has all the flavor of hay. Then dribble olive oil over the whole thing, making sure that any patches where the herbs have piled up are moistened.
35 minutes in a hot oven does it. Sometimes I let it go for 40 minutes because I want lots of charred bits to snack on. You have to know your oven and keep an eye on the pan after half an hour; also, let your nose lead you if it’s starting to smell like the tomatoes are cooked through and caramelizing.
You’re allowed to eat some right away (hot!) but save some for the rest of the gang.