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oven roasted tomatoes
       It's 93 MUGGY degrees today. We HUMANS may not enjoy this weather, but TOMATOES certainly DO. Lots of sunshine, summer rain and warm days are necessary for a ripe, juicy and ultimately delicious tomato. The legendary black dirt of the Hudson Valley is one of the BEST ENVIRONMENTS for all sorts of vegetables and fruits, except for one--YES, THE TOMATO, even those ORGANIC HEIRLOOM ONES.. These Hudson Valley beauties look perfect! But THEIR BEAUTY IS ONLY SKIN DEEP. The proof is in the tasting, and they just never meet up to my expectations.
       Why is that? Because I grew up in the Garden State--New Jersey--home of the NJ Turnpike, and a lot oil refineries. But if you veer off that well-beaten path, you'll find that there are actually a lot of gardens, aka farms, in NJ. And for whatever reason, I've never met a NJ tomato that I didn't love! IS IT THE SANDY SOIL? Or THE POLLUTION? I don't know. All I do know is that their flavor and texture is far superior to all others. Even the fertile Hudson Valley can't create a better one. And now that I 'm in Woodstock, it's one of the few things I miss about NJ. SO WHAT TO DO? Take those NY imposters and ROAST THEM!
       Oven roasting transforms those NY tomatoes into tomatoey goodness. Not only does it concentrate their flavor and sweetness, but it's a great way to preserve them as well. There's VERY LITTLE WORK to be done. Just a quick toss with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and a few fresh herbs--thyme, rosemary and/or fresh basil are favorites. And then into the oven to roast. I know when it's hot outside, you'll want to keep your oven use to a minimum. So when I can, I just throw them into the oven with any other savory dish I might be baking. IT'S OK TO MESS AROUND WITH THE BAKING TIME AND THE TEMPERATURE. When that sweet tomato aroma and the wrinkled skins appear, they're done.
       Once roasted, they can be used in so many different ways. Toss them with pasta of course, but how about on top of burgers, or tossed in a salad, or a bruschetta topping with fresh mozzarella and basil, or with hummus, or pureeing them with some 1/2 and 1/2 to create the best tomato soup. You'll think of more, I'm sure. Plus, they'll keep in the fridge for at least a week, or can be frozen for 3-4 months, for a fresh taste of summer in the middle of the inevitable cold, cold winter ahead.

LESSONS Learned:
1. Make sure to pick out the REDDEST, RIPEST tomatoes you can find, even if you don't have the best quality ones to choose from. Slice them with a serrated knife so you don't tear the skins. And try to cut the tomatoes into evenly sized pieces.
2. Use a large roasting pan and don't crowd the pan. Spread those tomatoes out, so the heat can circulate around them.
3. Because we are roasting for a long time, roughly chop or thickly slice the garlic so it doesn't burn. And make sure that the garlic and herbs are coated in the oil.
4. Eating the tomato skins is a personal preference. The peel easily comes off after they're baked, and I like them better that way.
oven roasted tomatoes 2

2 pounds small to medium tomatoes, stems removed and halved or quartered
2-3 cloves cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, or 8 branches fresh thyme, or 2 sprigs rosemary
1/2 teaspoon of sugar (optional)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8-10 grinds of freshly ground black pepper

Make the Tomatoes:
       Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the tomatoes skin side up in a large baking dish . Add the garlic and herbs, and drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil. Gently toss to coat. Season with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar if needed.
       Bake, uncovered, for about 2 hours or until the tomatoes are very soft and their skins are wrinkling. Allow them to cool. They will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week or 3- 4 months in the freezer. YUM!
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