Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Oven Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Two weekends, 40 pounds, eight baking sheets, one major f**k-up, and, finally, success!

Even as I read and read, and read some more, about slow roasting tomatoes, there are so many different versions out there (right?), so many disparate oven temperatures, ways to cut, sprinkle, or not, drizzle, or not, remove seeds, or not, roasting times: 8-10 hours, 5 hours, 3 hours, overnight, that I finally threw up my hands and went with what I knew in my brain and heart. 
And even with that I had a few bumps before getting it right.

The first bump was just silly: I went to a potluck party while my first batch of tomatoes was merrily roasting away, and roasting away (albeit at 260-degrees), and roasting away (while I forgot about them) to burnt crisps. That went into the compost and the oven fan had to be left on overnight to rid the house of the burned tomato smell.

The second (and, actually, third) bump resulted in so-so variations: in a 250-degree oven for nine hours to a 260-degree oven for seven hours, with the tomatoes swimming in to drizzled on olive oil* that both versions took forever to lose enough water to package. They are packed, and in the freezer, but they are definitely second rate.

A week went by while waiting for the Saturday farmers market to come around again so I could buy another lug (20 pounds) of tomatoes, and with this batch I finally reached roasted tomato nirvana (well, my roasted tomato nirvana) and this is the version that I share with you now.

Organic slicing tomatoes from Neukom Family Farms in Willow Creek.
You will notice that I have not used heirloom tomatoes for roasting.  Heirlooms, to my palate, must be savored fresh: in salads, out of hand, in a BLT; never in the oven nor in a sauce.
Organic slicing tomatoes from Green Fire Farm in Trinity County.
These beauties - just above - are what I roasted yesterday (see top photo). They were cooled, frozen in their trays, then packed into zip-top freezer bags, labeled and, finally, put back in the freezer.

Scoop out the stem ends with a melon baller
I found that the easiest way to get rid of deep-set stems is to make a small slit near the stem with a sharp knife, then insert a melon baller and scoop around the stem. Easy peasy.

Use a sharp knife to cut the tomatoes in half crosswise. My Wusthof boning knife was the perfect tool.

Lay tomatoes skin side down on parchment-lined baking sheets.
Had I written down the steps I used last weekend they would have read: sprinkle with herbs, sea salt, then drizzle with olive oil.  But I didn't like the texture of any of the tomatoes that had olive oil so this time I decided to omit it to see if I would get a firmer, drier tomato. That, for me, turned out to be a good decision. I am much happier with the results (see up close photo below for today's batch).

As you will see below, this is more of a step-by-step instruction than a recipe. I used dried Mediterranean herbs because that's what I had on hand but if you have rosemary and thyme growing in your garden that have not succumbed to the California drought, they would be even better. Note that I did not add garlic to the mix. In my humble opinion, garlic can (and will) be added to any of the dishes I make with these tomatoes in the months to come and do not need to be added in the roasting process.

Christine's Oven Roasted Tomatoes
1 20-pound lug of ripe, red, organic slicing tomatoes
Penzey's Tuscan Sunset herb blend, about 1 tablespoon per tray
Coarse sea salt, between 1-2 teaspoons per tray
Preheat oven to 285-degrees Fahrenheit (140.5 celsius/Mark 1).
Remove the stems from the tomatoes (see caption above).
Slice tomatoes in half crosswise then place on parchment-lined baking trays (mine are 18" x 13").  It's OK to crowd the tomatoes as they shrink in the oven.
Pinching between thumb and forefinger, sprinkle tomatoes with the dried herbs - about 1 heaping tablespoon per tray.
Again, pinching between thumb and forefinger, sprinkle tomatoes with the coarse sea salt. I used about 4 pinches for one tray.
Place the trays in the oven and slow roast for approximately four and one-half hours (4 1/2), alternating trays on the racks mid-way.
Remove trays from oven and allow tomatoes to cool entirely.
When cooled, place the trays of tomatoes in the freezer and allow to freeze for several hours or until each tomato can be picked up and not be sticky.
Pack the frozen tomatoes in single layers in zip-top freezer bags, carefully expelling as much air from the bag as possible.
Label each bag with the date and then bag again in another zip-top freezer bag, again expelling the air.
Put bags in the freezer and be prepared to relish their summery taste in soups, stews and braises over the winter months.

Cook's Notes:
It's not like I've never slow roasted tomatoes before, I have, back in 2009.  *It was the olive oil.  I couldn't get past using olive oil. And much as I love olive oil paired with tomatoes, roasting them together just didn't do it for me. The steps I've taken above result in intensely flavored, non-oily tomatoes that I know I will enjoy over the coming winter.

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